Football Features

Egyptian King of the Road: Mohamed Salah inspires Liverpool to end early kick-off curse

By Harry Edwards

Published: 14:51, 16 September 2023

Mohamed Salah continued his impressive assist record to help Liverpool end their early kick-off curse against Wolves.

The first Premier League game back after the international break, Liverpool may have felt a little aggrieved with the scheduling, given Luis Diaz, Darwin Nunez and Alexis Mac Allister were in all action in South America as late as the early hours of Wednesday morning.

To make matter worse for Liverpool, there was a huge mental battle they had to overcome, given their struggles in early Saturday games last season. Like most people who go out on a Friday night, Liverpool weren’t really at their best on Saturday mornings last season, but their slow starts proved costly.

Overall, Liverpool played six Premier League matches at the Saturday 12:30pm kick-off slot last season, and they didn’t win a single one. There were three draws and three defeats, with Liverpool scoring just three goals.

Five of those games also came away from home, with a 2-2 draw against Fulham at Craven Cottage, goalless draw with Chelsea at Stamford Bridge and defeats on the road to Bournemouth, Nottingham Forest and Man City. Well, seven minutes into their away game at Molineux, Liverpool fans will have been fearing the worst.

Wolves started brightly, in particular Pedro Neto up against Joe Gomez, and it was no surprise when the opening goal came through that side. Given far too much time and space to work his magic, Neto used his pace and trickery to get past Joel Matip inside the Liverpool box before cutting the ball across the face of goal. At the far post was Hwang Hee-chan, whose finish had just enough power to get it over the line despite Alisson’s best efforts.

The fifth goal Wolves have scored in the Premier League this season, four of them have been assisted by Pedro Neto. No player has recorded more assists in the Premier League this season than Neto’s four, and he leads the division for chances created on 17.

At half time, Peter Crouch spoke of Neto being as striker’s dream and hypothesised the Portuguese winger getting more assists if he had someone like Erling Haaland on the end of his crosses. But in the end another assister got the last laugh.

Liverpool finally arrived after half time and within 10 minutes of the second half they were level through Cody Gakpo. Luis Diaz was the main star in the move, having come on at the break, but the ball eventually found its way to Salah. The Egyptian fired a ball low across the face of goal and there was Gakpo to tap in.

This is the fifth consecutive away game in which Salah has assisted, becoming just the fourth player in Premier League history to do so. The first since Gerard Deulofeu in December 2015, Salah also joins Cesc Fabregas and Muzzy Izzet on an exclusive list.

And Salah wasn’t done there. He also provided the assist for what would prove to be the difference, as Andrew Robertson put Liverpool 2-1 up. This assist was a neat pass to the overlapping Scottish full-back, when others might have opted to cut back. The away assist run has seen Salah set up eight goals, with Saturday’s double joined by a hat-trick of assists vs Leicester, while also providing against Southampton, Chelsea and Newcastle.

The Egyptian has now been directly involved in 201 Premier League goals since joining Liverpool, in 223 matches — scoring 139 goals and providing 62 assists. Salah thought he had a hat-trick of assists too, as Harvey Elliott put Liverpool 3-1 up, but the goal was eventually deemed an own goal by Hugo Bueno, robbing both Elliott and Salah.

But two was good enough for Salah, who has now provided 63 assists in the Premier League (including one while at Chelsea), more than any other African player in the competition’s history. The last man to overtake was Riyad Mahrez, and he won’t be able to fight back following his move to the Saudi Premier League.

“He probably only gets credit when he gets goals now, which is probably slightly unfair,” Andy Robertson told TNT Sports after the match.

“But I think he’s got two assists today and he’s got us back into the game, he’s created the chances for us. In the second half he was really good and probably set the tempo for us.”

“He’s an all-time great,” Joe Cole added. “We are blessed to have him in the Premier League, a player of his quality.”

Salah has also provided more league assists in 2023 than any other player in Europe’s top seven leagues (12).