Mohamed Salah made a major contribution as Liverpool fuelled their quadruple aspirations and sent city rivals Everton closer to Premier League relegation, while Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang struggled to make an impact as Barcelona slumped to another shock defeat in LaLiga.
If Liverpool win the quadruple this season, Salah will be responsible for many of the most memorable moments of a magnificent campaign.
His personal highlight reel for 2021-22 will, of course, include last week’s performance against Manchester United, his hat-trick at Old Trafford earlier in the season, and his wondergoals against Manchester City and Watford in October.
Against those standouts, his contribution in the gritty victory over Everton on Sunday will perhaps get a little lost in the shuffle.
But his 62nd-minute assist against the struggling Toffees may prove to be the most critical, particularly with Liverpool making uncharacteristically hard work of breaking down their neighbours during the first hour of a tetchy contest.
Much has been made of Everton’s rigour, stymieing tactics and gamesmanship before their rearguard was breached, but, in truth, Liverpool weren’t applying the pressure that Jurgen Klopp would have been seeking — despite dominating the ball — before Salah’s intervention.
Salah had cut a frustrated figure in the first half, with Vitaliiy Mykolenko and Anthony Gordon working together to isolate and neutralise the Egyptian. However, renewed after the halftime break, and playing towards the Kop, one felt a blaze of magic might not be too far away heading towards the hour mark.
After exchanging passes with the freshly introduced Divock Origi, the Egypt forward spied the run of Andy Robertson advancing on Everton’s backpost and played in the Scotland full-back with a magnificent chipped pass.
Everton’s goalkeeper, Jordan Pickford, hadn’t anticipated the pass, and, with the ball picking out Robertson’s run to perfection, the left-sider headed home comfortably beyond the leaping Diogo Jota to give Liverpool the lead their immense possession merited.
Salah, himself, had been struggling for form in recent weeks, and certainly there hadn’t been the relentless punishing of defences that we witnessed during his outstanding September-December run.
But there was subtlety, guile and invention about his ball to Robertson — described as a “moment of brilliance” by Frank Lampard — when earlier in the season he might have lashed at goal himself.
Salah could and probably should have added to Liverpool’s tally when he sliced over from close range after Joel Matip had been denied, but he’d already done enough, and the game was already beyond Everton when Origi added a second five minutes from time.
Liverpool, now on 79 points to Manchester City’s 80, remain the outsiders in the title race, but their relentless pushing of the reigning champions may prompt a fissure in the leaders across the five games to come.
In this context, with every point critical, and with Everton entering the final half hour of a contest they “could not lose”, Salah’s intervention was worth its weight in gold.
For Alex Iwobi, however, squaring up opposite Salah on the left side of the Toffees’ midfield three, manful running was one of the few positives to take from a testing display.
Admittedly, at one point, he appeared on the brink of equalising for the visitors when he was picked out by Dele Alli, only for Robertson to intervene and clear the danger, but there was little chance of him adding to his paltry one assist all season.
Ultimately, while Liverpool’s quadruple hopes are fuelled by this victory, Everton’s battle against the drop — now looking increasingly hazardous — won’t be decided in defeat by one of the finest club sides the British game has known but on the home fixtures to come and the away trips to Brentford and Watford in particular.
Perhaps Iwobi’s three miserable years at Goodison Park won’t end in the humiliation of relegation.
Elsewhere in the Premier League, Mohammed Salisu‘s own goal away at Brighton & Hove Albion put Southampton 2-0 down, only for James Ward-Prowse to respond with a double for the Saints to ensure the points were shared.
It was a miserable moment for the Ghana centre-back — returning to the starting XI after being dropped for the previous two matches — after he’d contributed to Brighton’s opener by misjudging a cross from Marc Cucurella.
In truth, however, there wasn’t too much he could have done about the own goal, as he attempted to divert Leandro Trossard‘s cross away from his own net.
At the Etihad Stadium, Hassane Kamara scored his maiden Premier League goal for Watford, although there wasn’t too much for the Ivorian to celebrate as the Hornets were on the receiving end of a 5-1 hammering by the league leaders.
Only three months after arriving in Hertfordshire, the Ivory Coast defender looks set to have another relegation on his record, having previously dropped down divisions with Chateauroux and Stade de Reims.
Destiny Udogie — who has represented Italy at under-21 level — equalised for Udinese after being set up by Success, before the former Hornets star added his second goal of the season to put the visitors into the ascendancy.
Bologna ultimately equalised, but the interventions by Success saw the 26-year-old break his record for goal contributions in a single season during his career. The attacker has now had a hand in nine goals this campaign, and he may yet salvage something from a career that had previously gone off the rails.
There was no goal for Napoli Player of the Month Victor Osimhen as the Partenopei threw away a two-goal lead to lose 3-2 at Empoli, and the Super Eagles striker and his teammates have taken just one point from their past three games to slip seven points behind league leaders AC Milan.
In Spain, Aubameyang was unable to follow up his midweek winner against Real Sociedad as he delivered one of his poorest performances in a Barcelona shirt.
Barcelona netted five goals in consecutive matches against Eintracht Frankfurt and Levante, but they’ve now scored just once in their past 270 minutes of football — with Auba lacking sharpness in the box and struggling to link with those around him.
He got off one shot — failing to hit the target — and had just 18 touches of the ball, the fewest of any of the 22 players who started the match.
Finally, successful domestic campaigns for Bayern Munich and Paris Saint-Germain came to a conclusion in Germany and France respectively, with both clubs clinching domestic league titles.
Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting made a brief cameo as Bayern defeated rivals Borussia Dortmund 3-1 in Der Klassiker to win the Bundesliga, and the Cameroon forward has now won four consecutive league crowns in his past four campaigns in France and Germany.
For PSG, a 10th league title was secured with a 1-1 draw against Racing Club de Lens at Parc des Princes, with Idrissa Gueye and Achraf Hakimi — a Serie A champion with Internazionale last season — both featuring for the capital club.
Abdou Diallo, an Africa Cup of Nations winner with Senegal earlier this year, was an unused substitute for Mauricio Pochettino’s side.
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