LIVERPOOL, 18 Sep – Sadio Mané had long since assumed his place in Liverpool history. He was a scorer in one Champions League final, a winner in another, a catalyst in ending their 30-year wait for a league title, but now he has further evidence of his individual excellence. He joined a distinguished band by becoming the 18th man to register a century of goals for Liverpool. He now finds himself level with Kevin Keegan with John Barnes next in his sights.
Perhaps there was no more fitting, or predictable, victim for a milestone strike than Crystal Palace. By scoring for a ninth successive game against them, Mané equalled Robin van Persie’s Premier League record for picking on one opponent; Palace can now empathise with Stoke, who suffered at the left foot of the Dutchman. Mané’s previous goals against the Londoners clinched Liverpool’s place in the Champions League and brought an anticlimactic end to Roy Hodgson’s managerial career and if Patrick Vieira’s revamped, more adventurous outfit offered a blend of menace and resistance, Jürgen Klopp’s side extended an excellent start to the season.
While their rivals have spent heavily on attacking talents this summer, Mané and his fellow scorer Mohamed Salah offered reminders Liverpool’s past, and cheaper, business has equipped them well to challenge. Naby Keïta has felt the exception, the one big Klopp buy who has misfired but his sweet volley completed the scoring. It stemmed from a Salah corner that Vicente Guaita punched away and, indirectly, all three goals came from set-pieces.
Mané reacted swiftest when Guaita blocked Salah’s header, pivoting to lift a shot over the grounded goalkeeper. Salah then lashed in his 99th Premier League goal for Liverpool when Virgil van Dijk headed on a second corner from Kostas Tsimikas, whose presence was part of wholesale rotation in defence.
Klopp had swapped his entire back four, with illness accounting for Trent Alexander-Arnold’s absence. Ibrahima Konaté’s debut began in inauspicious style as Liverpool’s woodwork was struck twice in as many minutes. The second, a header from a clearly offside Christian Benteke, mattered less. But when Conor Gallagher lofted a pass over Liverpool’s reconfigured rearguard and Wilfried Zaha attempted to lob Alisson, it was imperative the goalkeeper clawed the ball on to the post.
James Milner had considered tugging Zaha back and thought better of it. The veteran’s last red card came for fouling Zaha when an auxiliary right-back. Handed the same thankless job in Trent Alexander-Arnold’s absence, he coped admirably, while Jordan Henderson was instead booked for fouling the winger. Fresh from tormenting Tottenham, the effervescent Gallagher again looked suited to such stages. Odsonne Édouard, who had marked his debut with a brace against Spurs, had a chance to stage a sequel in his cameo. First a wretched touch allowed Alisson to intervene then the goalkeeper made a terrific save when he outmuscled the otherwise impressive Konaté.
The worst miss, however, came from Diogo Jota. His first was excusable as it came from an acute angle. There were no such mitigating factors when Guaita parried Thiago’s forceful header to the forward. Four yards out, he hooked a shot into Anfield Road stand. The outstanding Guaita also thwarted Henderson and later made a double save to deny substitute Keïta and Salah but each nevertheless ended up on the scoresheet.