Mohamed Salah had a rollercoaster send off in his final game before heading to join up with his Egypt team for the Africa Cup of Nations as he played a starring role in Liverpool’s 4-2 Premier League win over Newcastle on Monday.
Salah, 31, had a first-half penalty saved before scoring two goals – his 150th and 151st in the Premier League for the club – as well as providing an assist for Cody Gakpo with an exquisite cross with the outside of his left foot.
Salah also played a key role in Liverpool’s second goal, passing to Diogo Jota, who then eed up Curtis Jones for a simple finish.
Not only did Salah become only the fifth player in Liverpool’s history to score 150 goals in the league, but his contribution to the victory sent the club three points clear atop the Premier League table.
However, Salah will now be unavailable for his club side as he now travels to join up with the Egypt national team for the Africa Cup of Nations – the continent’s premier international tournament and one which The Pharaohs have won a record seven times.
The competition is being held in Ivory Coast, but Salah believes that Liverpool have the quality to continue winning games in his absence.
“Everybody asks me the same!” Salah said after the Newcastle victory. “I want to win (the Africa Cup of Nations), I would love to win it.
“But without me, I’m sure the [Liverpool] players will manage to win games. We have fantastic players, really good quality, they just need to keep the pressure away and just play their football. We have players who can play in my position, they can do what I am doing.
“It means a lot to play for the national team, it’s a great feeling. Every time I step on the field with the national team jersey, it’s something I cannot take for granted. I’m just happy to play in the tournament and I would love to win it.”
Salah’s starring role capped off a perfect start to 2024 for Liverpool who took advantage of Arsenal’s recent poor form to go clear at the top of the Premier League table after 20 games of the season.
It wasn’t a simple victory for the Merseyside team though, with Salah’s first-half missed penalty an early setback at Anfield.
But he made amends for that error, tapping home from close range on the 49th minute to give the home side the lead. The goal, his 150th for Liverpool in the Premier League, meant he became just the fifth player to reach the milestone for a single club in the competition.
After the game, Salah said a change of footwear during halftime turned his fortunes around.
“The other ones [boots] I missed the pen with, I just trained with yesterday,” Salah told Sky Sports after the victory. “It’s not superstitious because I play with many boots. But when I feel it’s going to play with my head, OK, out, change the boots!
“But I don’t like to go in the second half of this game thinking, ‘I didn’t score with this.’ So I just made my mind calm and focused on the game.”
Although Alexander Isak’s incisive finish made it 1-1, Liverpool raced into a two-goal lead through close-range finishes from Jones and Gakpo before Sven Botman’s header in the 81st minute made it 3-2 to ensures a nervy finish.
However, those fears were quickly alleviated when in the 86th minute, Salah made amends for his earlier penalty miss by successfully converting from the spot to wrap up the three points.
After the game, Salah said his imminent departure for the Egypt national team provided extra motivation for him in the second half to correct his first-half mistakes.
“The players spoke in the dressing room [and said] we have to stay calm.
“I missed the pen. At half-time I was like, ‘Do you want to leave for the national team with that performance?’ Not really! So I had to really focus, step up and make the difference and I managed to do so.”
He continued: “It’s a great result for us. The game was very intense and we managed to pick up three points and now we are top of the table. We need to stay calm and win every game.”
The Africa Cup of Nations begins on Saturday, January 13 with the hosts Ivory Coast playing Guinea-Bissau. The final will be played on Sunday, February 11.