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what next? A 90 minutes to ponder as Liverpool face into 'Mohamed Salah Doomsday' scenario

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Mo Salah celebrates his goal for Liverpool. Photo: Peter Byrne

Mo Salah celebrates his goal for Liverpool. Photo: Peter Byrne

Mo Salah celebrates his goal for Liverpool. Photo: Peter Byrne

To watch Mohamed Salah’s artistry is to witness explosions of attacking. In a split-second he goes from jogging to sprinting with nothing in between.

His only comparison is Cristiano Ronaldo, who has been brought back to Manchester United to score goals inside the penalty area and little else.

Salah only has eyes for goals and against Crystal Palace on Saturday scored one, set up Sadio Mane and his corner led to Naby Keita’s strike in their 3-0 victory that lifted Liverpool to the top of the table.

At one stage in the second half, he raced back to his own penalty area, won the ball and produced a Cruyff turn to trick Wilfried Zaha and get out of trouble. But the rest of the time he stayed disciplined and only strayed from his station on the right wing to counter-attack through the middle. It means periods in matches when he is not involved, but when the chances come he is alive:

0-9 minutes

He starts on the right flank, using his patient tactic of waiting for the right time to attack. The temptation would be to get on the ball and test full-back Tyrick Mitchell with an early run, but he lays off his touches of the ball to his nearest team-mate.

His first sprint comes with the ball in Alisson Becker’s hands, getting to top speed within a few strides and only James McArthur’s tackle prevents him from going through on goal. As Liverpool pour forward, his back-heel splits the defence and sends Jordan Henderson away.

10-30 minutes

Salah stretches the Palace defence by staying on the right touchline rather than getting drawn inside. Even in the early stages, Mitchell is in two minds whether to leave him on his own and deal with the problem when it arises, or follow him out to the flank.

Salah starts to look for his team-mates’ runs and almost sends through Diogo Jota after a quick drag-back to deceive his opponent. As Salah grows into the game he looks for the quick, long pass from Alisson to set up a counter-attack.

His first chance comes at the far post, when Konstantinos Tsimikas swings over a cross. The finish is scuffed into the floor. He is clearly getting more into the game and also produces a cross to set up a chance for Thiago Alcantara.

30-45 minutes

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At the heart of Liverpool’s best attacks, as well as earning a free-kick when Conor Gallagher trips him. Jota misses a huge chance and Salah has a role in the build-up, laying the ball off for Henderson to cross.

Salah knows from Tsimikas’s signal that a corner is heading for the penalty spot, so makes his move with a run around the side of the pack and catches Palace unaware.

His header is saved, but Mane scores the rebound.

45-60 minutes

Henderson is on the right side of Liverpool’s midfield and he links well with Salah, who sees a gap and gets between Mitchell and Marc Guehi with a run. But he is picking and choosing when to carry the ball forward. It is at this stage that he starts more defensive work, pulling off his neat turn in his own penalty area and popping up at right-back. At the other end, he is alive when a free-kick is charged down and has an effort blocked.

60-90 minutes

Follows up Keita’s shot and has a go himself from a tight ankle, only for Vicente Guaita to block off the angle and save at the near post.

Salah offers himself for counter-attacks, sprinting down the middle when Alisson has the ball in his hands and on another day might have added more goals. His goal comes from a corner at which he loses Jairo Riedewald and volleys home from close range.

Salah runs down the clock by taking the ball into the corner, but he also swings over a free-kick which is punched by Guaita, but volleyed in by Keita.

Salah has one full season left on his contract and keeping him must be the club’s priority, even if he turns 30 in June.

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