Fifty-five seconds was all it took Mohamed Salah to open the scoring for Liverpool against FC Midtjylland. This was enough to attach some historical meaning to what was a dead rubber fixture for Jurgen Klopp’s men, with top spot in Group B already secured. It was both the fastest goal Liverpool have ever scored in the Champions League and the goal that made Salah the club’s top scorer in the competition. One minute, two records.
That the Egyptian has claimed that record, which previously belonged to Steven Gerrard, after just three-and-a-half years at Anfield highlights the level Liverpool have reached under Jurgen Klopp. These are golden times for the Reds and Salah’s record-breaking goal in Denmark was just another sparkling emblem of this.
Salah has been so good for Liverpool since arriving from Roma in 2017 that it can be easy to overlook his game-to-game contribution. The 28-year-old has achieved near freakish levels of consistency. Brilliance is now expected of Salah in the same way it’s expected of Lionel Messi at Barcelona.
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The opener against Wolves, scored in stunning fashion from outside the box, saw Salah equal Cristiano Ronaldo’s record of 84 Premier League goals in 66 games fewer than the legendary Portuguese forward. Ronaldo was a slightly different player for Manchester United to the single-minded centre forward he would become later in his career, but these are yet more numbers to illustrate the Egyptian’s sustained excellence.
If, however, the Champions League provides the best gauge of talent in the modern game, Salah measures up better than any other Liverpool player in recent memory. Klopp’s squad is awash with elite talent, but it is the 28-year-old who has made himself the face of this chapter of the Anfield club’s history.
Of course, great Liverpool players graced the Champions League before the Klopp age. Gerrard was a spiritual leader for the Reds, earning his place in the club’s European folklore by sparking the famous fightback in Istanbul. For scoring 21 times in the Champions League as a box-to-box midfielder, Gerrard deserves his place in the pantheon of great Liverpool players in Europe.
Surprisingly, Fernando Torres only scored eight times in the Champions League for Liverpool, arriving two years after Istanbul and the Reds’ run to the 2007 Champions League final. The Spanish striker was a giant for the Anfield club in the Premier League, scoring 65 times in 102 appearances, but didn’t catch the crest of the European wave under Rafael Benitez.
Even taking into account the prolonged continental heroics of Benitez’s Liverpool side and the players who reached two Champions League finals in three seasons - the likes of Xabi Alonso, Gerrard and Javier Mascherano - the club’s current crop play with a different sort of gloss.
For all its memorable drama, Istanbul felt like one of those moments that was just meant to be for Liverpool. It wasn’t quite a fluke, but Benitez got the best out of a group of players that should have been out of their depth at the elite level. Liverpool had Steve Finnan and Djimi Traore at left and right full back in Istanbul. AC Milan had Cafu and Paolo Maldini.
Klopp’s Liverpool, however, are simply European heavyweights both on paper and on the pitch. Their front three is among the best ever seen in the Champions League. Virgil van Dijk is arguably the best central defender of his generation. And Salah could be next in line as the game’s greatest as the Lionel Messi-Cristiano Ronaldo era winds down.
A 1-1 away draw on a cold December evening in Denmark was hardly a memorable Champions League moment for Liverpool, but there was an underlying symbolism to the match. Salah is the club’s all-time top scorer in the competition and that is another illustration of what Klopp has turned Liverpool into.