Why everyone wants Mo Salah firing, except Man City: Neil Humphreys
Liverpool star offers best chance of keeping the EPL title race alive
Pep Guardiola isn't thinking about Liverpool's sudden bounce in form.
He isn't thinking about Jordan Henderson's heroics at centre-back, Georginio Wijnaldum's anchorman role or even an outstanding cameo from Curtis Jones.
Guardiola is only thinking about Mo Salah and that touch.
That touch could destroy John Stones and Ruben Dias. That touch could kick-start a title race. That touch could ruin Manchester City's season.
What Salah did to take down Xherdan Shaqiri's cross, stopping a fizzing ball in the way a concrete wall stops a truck, cannot be explained, rationalised or prevented.
Like Daniel LaRusso's crane kick, there is no defence.
Guardiola has little in his tactical toolbox to deal with Salah in this form. The Egyptian's double in their 3-1 win over West Ham United yesterday morning (Singapore time) not only saved Liverpool's campaign, but perhaps also the season itself for the rest of us.
Four points separate Manchester City and Liverpool. Realistically, the gap cannot afford to be larger ahead of their English Premier League meeting at Anfield on Monday morning.
Salah's goals kept the Reds alive. His touch may keep Guardiola awake at night.
The forward's first strike was characteristically brilliant, in the sense that he dribbled through a crowded box before curling a shot into the top corner.
But a picture tells the real story. Examine the photographs as Salah shoots. Four Hammers surround him. His window of opportunity is shrinking. And yet, he waves a leg in the air like a golfer taking a practice swing.
He's the calmest man on the pitch. This Salah looks a lot like the old Salah.
If further confirmation was required, it arrived with his gentle touch for the second goal. He killed Shaqiri's ferocious, 40m pass like it was a dirty rumour. The subsequent finish was never in doubt.
FIRST SINCE RUSH
Statisticians are now obligated to point out that Salah has become the first Liverpool player to score more than 20 goals across all competitions in four consecutive seasons since Ian Rush in the mid-80s, as if that has any real bearing on the current, unique situation.
An erratic season is being played inside empty stadiums.
Until Salah intervened, this campaign was grinding along to City's inevitable celebrations inside a silent stadium, the last thing this subdued season needed.
Never mind Liverpool's trophy aspirations. The rest of us could use a touch of Salah's class to avoid switching off around Easter.
The 28-year-old had already hinted at a personal recovery. Two goals in the FA Cup at Manchester United should've been followed with another against Tottenham, only for a VAR review to scrap whatever dignity the technology has left.
Until recently, both the man and the Merseysiders were struggling with a mutual wobble. Liverpool dropped too many points. Salah hadn't scored in the EPL since Dec 19.
Liverpool's issues at centre-back hadn't helped. The desperate Reds seemed one injury away from bringing back Rigobert Song.
Squad rotations dragged midfielders into defence, disrupting the Reds' pressing game and isolating Salah.
Even at West Ham, a similar storyline was playing out until Juergen Klopp intervened, changing personnel and formation to finally make the most of his irrepressible maverick.
The timing was impeccable. City's winning streak now extends to 12 games. Unlike Klopp, Guardiola is in the privileged position of being able to rotate first-rate centre-backs.
Stones was given the weekend off. Aymeric Laporte stepped up against Sheffield United. No one really noticed. City left the Etihad with another clean sheet.
The Reds, on the other hand, are still patched up, weary and arguably overachieving with limited resources.
City's squad have freedom to breathe, a chance to rotate and freshen up ahead of a weekend fixture at Anfield that may not settle the title race, but will almost certainly define it.
Logic still suggests a City victory, but logic cannot be used to describe Salah's rousing antics at West Ham. Gratitude will just have to do for now.
Appreciate the gift and hope that it keeps on giving until the end of the season.