As Saudi clubs prepare world-record bid, Mohamed Salah shows his true value to Liverpool

Mohamed Salah is being chased by Saudi Pro League clubs  (Reuters)

For Liverpool, the large numbers surrounding Mohamed Salah are not just confined to his potential transfer fee. A few days after they rejected a £150m bid from Al-Ittihad, Salah scored in a 150th different Liverpool game. Amid talk of a £200m offer, the Egyptian delivered the 188th goal of a six-year stay on Merseyside that, if the Saudi Pro League club had their way, would have been curtailed last week. With the Saudi transfer window still open, it may yet end this week, but Liverpool certainly hope not.

Salah scarcely performed like a man distracted by the prospect of a move that could make him the third most expensive player ever or the best-paid on the planet. Rather, it was a typical display: he now has seven goals in his last seven starts against Aston Villa and has either scored or assisted in each of Liverpool’s last 10 league games. Were Darwin Nunez’s finishing more accurate, he would have done both here. Instead, he added to what has been a terrific start to the season for Liverpool. A focus on the transfer market can generate a sense of crisis, with the departures of Jordan Henderson and Fabinho, the failed bids for Moises Caicedo and Romeo Lavia and the prospect of Salah being poached. Yet Liverpool have 10 points from four games, three of them against sides widely expected to finish in the top eight. They were rampant and dominant as Villa were swatted aside.

Salah’s excellence was predictable. And so, rather than the man who might have left for £150m, perhaps it became about a duo who, between them, could come to cost a similar sum. The Egyptian could have become their record sale this week, but the pair who, respectively, are their biggest summer signing and, if add-ons are triggered, the biggest in their history, became the headlines.

Dominik Szoboszlai scored his first goal for Liverpool. Nunez did everything but score. All games involving Nunez tend to revolve around Nunez and this was no exception, even if it proved to be very different to his match-winning cameo at Newcastle.

The Uruguayan is among the most entertaining of footballers, in part because he is among the least consistent. After a clinical brace at St James’ Park came the spurned chances that could have brought him a hat-trick, and Salah a hat-trick of assists. The striker at least hit the woodwork twice, the first leading to Matty Cash’s own goal. He showed the ability and willingness to run in behind defences that proved so effective at Newcastle and offered evidence of an understanding with Salah. Yet, when the Egyptian delivered a delectable cross with the outside of his left foot and Nunez had an open goal, he headed wide of it. He had hit the bar, too with a deft chip from a Salah pass. When the ball went in from a Nunez shot, it was in unintentional, almost comical fashion: Salah found him, the striker drilled a shot against the post, it rebounded on to Cash and in. Having scored three goals for Villa in a week, the newly-prolific right-back added one for Liverpool.

Nunez could celebrate involvement in Liverpool’s second goal (PA)
Nunez could celebrate involvement in Liverpool’s second goal (PA)

Perhaps it was unsurprising that when there was a role reversal, when Nunez found Salah, the finish was supplied, albeit from about two yards. But it was the product of timing and anticipation, with the 31-year-old ghosting in to meet his sidekick’s flick-on from Andy Robertson’s corner.

The finest goal of the day, however, was the first. Szoboszlai opened his Liverpool account in the third minute of his second game at Anfield. A sweetly-struck half-volley from the edge of the box, showcasing technique and precision. As Trent Alexander-Arnold’s corner sailed all the way through to Szoboszlai, untouched by the hordes in the box, it earned him an unconventional assist.

But there has been the sense the £60m signing can bring more goals to the centre of the pitch. A moment of skill to dance past Lucas Digne was another indication of his attacking ability. Once again, Szoboszlai was terrific. He has made the most impressive start of the four summer signings – though the most recent, Ryan Gravenberch, arrived too late to be eligible for this game – and the third, Wataru Endo, was dropped.

Dominik Szoboszlai scored a stunning opening goal (Liverpool FC via Getty Images)
Dominik Szoboszlai scored a stunning opening goal (Liverpool FC via Getty Images)

For Villa, a second emphatic defeat of their start followed four wins by sizeable margins. They were strangely soporific. With Pau Torres troubled by Nunez and Salah, their high defensive line was exploited, as it had been in their 5-1 thrashing at Newcastle. Yet they had the worst of both worlds as they did not press Alexander-Arnold either. Captaining Liverpool at Anfield for the first time, the playmaker from the back was arguably the best player on the pitch. That Villa began without wingers afforded him still more room.

Unai Emery’s plans changed within 20 minutes: the injured centre-back Diego Carlos was replaced by forward Leon Bailey. As Villa conceded a second goal immediately afterwards, the plan backfired while the substitute was himself substituted 45 minutes later. He disappeared down the tunnel but he had lasted long enough on the pitch to see Salah score. If Liverpool get their wish, such sights will not be consigned to their past.