ENGLISH PREMIER LEAGUE
LONDON • The general consensus seems to be that Mohamed Salah has not been quite the same player this season.
In truth, Liverpool fans have little to worry after the striker produced a wonderful display that could not have been more timely ahead of Tuesday's Champions League crunch tie against Napoli.
He scored a hat-trick in the 4-0 English Premier League win at Bournemouth yesterday as the Reds racked up a fifth successive win to extend their unbeaten start.
The man who had 32 league goals last term now has 10 and his manager Jurgen Klopp had nothing but praise and could only marvel at the 26-year-old's genius.
"It was absolutely brilliant. He was on fire. It is nice for him to score three goals. We know how big his desire is," the German told Sky Sports. "Mo did brilliantly and the fourth one (Salah's third) was brilliant, completely calm."
Salah worked his magic for that goal, outmuscling Steve Cook to get to Adam Lallana's through ball and dancing nimbly around goalkeeper Asmir Begovic before slotting home.
Premier League games Mohamed Salah took to reach his 40th goal. With his opener at Bournemouth, he is the fastest Red to hit that milestone, overtaking Fernando Torres (60 games) and Daniel Sturridge (64).
The Egyptian had opened the scoring in the 25th minute, although there was a suspicion of offside. There was no argument about his second straight after the interval when he fired into the corner.
The visitors went three up when Cook diverted Andrew Robertson's cross past Begovic for an own goal.
Klopp said: "It was a very mature game. We scored a goal and controlled the game. But we were not completely happy with the rhythm. We made changes and wanted to do more and there was a lot of good counter pressing.
"Bournemouth have had a really good season. Winning in the manner we did was quite special."
Salah also earned praise from the pundits. The Times' chief football writer Henry Winter tweeted: "Quite a way to seal a hat-trick - strength, pace, touch, balance and composure from Salah. To think some people suggested he might have a quiet season. Brilliant, driven player."
James Milner, on his 500th Premier League appearance, lined up at right-back for Liverpool for a match in which Klopp made five changes to the team that won at Burnley in midweek.
Naby Keita and Fabinho started a league game together for the first time, with the former drifting towards the left flank, and there were also recalls for Robertson and Georginio Wijnaldum.
Salah refused to pick up his Man of the Match award, saying that it should go to Milner instead.
"Scored three goals, kept a clean sheet. It was a fantastic result. I enjoyed the last one the most. I was calm," he told Sky Sports.
"I have to congratulate (Milner) for his amazing career. I know everyone has high expectations for me but the most important thing is to win each game."
Liverpool's win moved them one point ahead of Manchester City at the top, hours before Pep Guardiola's men visited Chelsea.
Klopp, however, dismissed the suggestion that the title race was heating up between the two sides.
"The only way to be successful is to be completely focused on yourself," he said. "We are not really interested in other teams.
"We only have three days until Napoli which is a big one. Let's go home, have food and go again."
THE GUARDIAN, REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE