The scoreline from today is a bit strange, in that it was justified, but pretty much any scoreline from an even greater margin of victory to, say, a 2-1 win by the visitors would have been justified as well. Usually when one team creeps up on 30 shots, and with on-goal attempts in the double digits, you get a sense that they dominated the game. In some ways, the Reds did indeed dominate. Yet at the same time, Palace looked threatening the entire game, and Liverpool needed the extra edge to keep them from biting. In fact, it never felt comfortable until today’s master of ceremonies, the somehow still-underrated-after-all-these-years Mo Salah, got his single second-half jailbreak and eased the pressure.
In fact, let’s get this one out of the way: Salah was brilliant and easily the man-of-the-match. He was his usual gorgeous self in attack, but where he did the most damage to Palace was at the other end. His constant support of the right flank is one big reason why Zaha seemed to have never shown up to this game. And while Milner should have, perhaps, earned a yellow after all, if not for any one challenge (although a couple were strong candidates), then for persistent fouling, there is no doubt in my mind that he would have gotten one were it not for Salah. With Millie on a yellow, Zaha would have had a lot more freedom to stir up his usual kind of trouble.
Salah and his counterpart in brilliance, Kostas Tsimikas – I will never tire of seeing his crosses – combined to open the account today, even if Mane (who scored his 100th premier league goal and is starting to look like his best self again) was the one who ultimately struck it home. Liverpool’s first two goals both came from essentially a variation on the same theme: a useful corner eventually finding the constantly moving Salah, having confused and shaken off his handler, wide open. Mane benefited from a last-ditch save on the first. There was no stopping the second, an emphatic finish, with the grinning Egyptian clearly enjoying himself and taking his celebratory yellow in stride.
And then came that third goal – which, incidentally, also started with a useful set-piece cross – and even though it didn’t matter to the outcome of the game itself, I found myself screaming and jumping up in joy. It wasn’t just the technical purity of Keita’s volley, which was off the charts. It wasn’t even the aplomb with which he struck it, finally delivering the quality that we have all been expecting from him since he came to Anfield. Most of all, I loved his reaction to it, this look he kept on his face for a couple of seconds, as if to say, just another day in the office folks. It felt, during the pre-season, that Keita was finally going to arrive, and when he did with this fabulous strike, the Kop virtually exploded.
On a separate note, Konate’s debut performance was good, and while the Reds had a couple of nervy moments resulting from miscommunications between him and his senior partner in the back, his defensive presence was just as good as we could have hoped. Even more impressively, he exhibited a fantastic passing range, essentially matching Van Dijk in finding opportunities to put the ball over the top. That’s bound to cause a lot of problems to a lot of teams.
Klopp has been telling everyone that a (more or less) healthy Liverpool squad is like getting half a dozen new stars in the team. He clearly wasn’t kidding. Let’s just hope that Thiago’s knock will not turn out to be significant.