Liverpool's Mo Salah silences critics as hat trick beats Bournemouth
BOURNEMOUTH, England -- Three points on Liverpool's 4-0 win over Bournemouth in the Premier League, which saw Mo Salah (seventh on the ESPN FC 100 list of Forwards) bag a hat trick.
1. Liverpool march on
Liverpool finished their latest victory not knowing how long their spell at the top of the Premier League would last, with Manchester City facing Chelsea later in the day. But more than transient league positions with not even half a season gone, it's extraordinary that Liverpool are even keeping pace with Pep Guardiola's side.
Mo Salah scored a hat trick in a game that will haunt Steve Cook's nightmares for months to come. The Bournemouth stalwart was befuddled for two of those strikes before contributing another himself with an own-goal that required implausible levels of contortion.
Still, he can take comfort in numbers: he won't be the first made to look foolish by Salah, and he won't be the last.
Salah gave Liverpool the lead after 25 minutes: he exchanged passes with Roberto Firmino, who hit an early half-volley that swerved and skipped off the rain-covered surface, so Asmir Begovic could only shovel the ball back into the area. Salah reacted quickest to slam home, but he was helped out by being just offside: everyone seemed to pause waiting for the assistant's flag, but it stayed down.
Bournemouth's sense of injustice continued throughout the half, decisions minor and major going against them: they might even have been awarded a penalty when Alisson went up for a ball with Josh King and put his knee in the Norwegian's chest.
But it was over as a contest in the second half. Salah doubled the lead after the break, combining with Firmino again and surviving a hack at his heels by Cook before directing a low finish into the bottom corner. Then, from an Andy Robertson cross about 10 later, Cook somehow managed to flick the ball off his left instep and through his own legs, into the bottom corner.
Cook's day of calamity was completed when chasing a through ball with Salah: he was muscled out and watched from the turf as his foe rounded Begovic, then rounded him again before completing the rout in his own sweet time. Liverpool march on.
2. Super Salah silences his critics
Only two players have reached 40 Premier League goals quicker than Mo Salah's 52 games: Alan Shearer and Andy Cole (45). Only one player in Europe has more league strikes since the start of last season: Lionel Messi.
So at the moment, the worst you can say about Salah is he's not quite as good a goal scorer as two of the top three in Premier League history, and arguably the greatest player of all time.
What's particularly impressive is that he's scoring all of these goals while playing in a different position to last season. The extraordinary campaign that brought 44 goals saw him play mostly on the right side of a three-man attack, the movement of Firmino and Sadio Mane creating the space in which a formerly impressive but hardly otherworldly forward achieved barely credible feats.
This term, Jurgen Klopp has often positioned Salah as a No. 9, with Firmino playing just behind him. Salah has had to make his own space, rather than exploiting that created by others. It tells you a few things, among them the impressive adaptability of Liverpool as a whole, and that Salah's 2017-18 might be his new normal, rather than a glorious outlier.
At the start of October, Klopp suggested that Salah could do with calming down a little bit to rediscover his best form. "Be relaxed, completely relaxed," Klopp said. "Because there is no need for anything else. Completely relaxed."
Since then he's got nine goals in 13 appearances, and you can throw in a few assists and a couple for Egypt in that time too. The whale song and scented candles look like they've worked a treat.
3. Bournemouth have to beat the best
Charlie Daniels recently told ESPN that Bournemouth's impressive season thus far is not the height of their ambitions. They want to become the "best of the rest" -- the strongest team outside of the seemingly unbreakable "Big Six" -- but to do that they have to beat one of them at some point.
Perhaps it's harsh to point out that Bournemouth's most notable win this season was against Watford: an excellent win against a fine side, but when facing the teams whose heels they want to carry on nipping at, they have struggled. They've lost against both Manchester clubs, Chelsea, Arsenal and now Liverpool, with Tottenham to come on Boxing Day.
This, admittedly, is not the biggest crisis Eddie Howe's side have faced, and those who remember just surviving relegation from League Two barely a decade ago presumably won't cry themselves to sleep about not beating the very best in the Premier League.
But it does illustrate the gulf in class between those elite teams and the rest, and only requires one thing to not be quite right for them to be swept aside.
On this occasion it was a combination of Cook's forgettable and regrettable day, and the absence of striker Callum Wilson, not risked with a hamstring problem. Bournemouth only had two shots on target and, without their main source of goals, looked impotent against a fine Liverpool defence.
The achievements of Howe and Bournemouth have been remarkable, but games like this provide a reminder of just how much more remarkable they have to be to go further.