Manchester United suffered a humiliating 5-0 home defeat to bitter rivals Liverpool to leave Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s position as manager in the balance
By the end of the most high-profile game in English football and arguably the world, there was only one winner – the irrepressible Salah.
After setting up the opener after five minutes, the Egyptian king set about single-handedly destroying Manchester United, to cement his status as the best player in the world.
Salah’s breathtaking hat-trick took his goal tally for the season to 15 in 12 games, including 14 in his last 10 appearances for Jurgen Klopp’s side and and 10 in his last 10 games, a club record.
He also became the first Liverpool player to score in three successive games at Old Trafford and the first opposition player to score a hat-trick at Old Trafford in the Premier League.
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Such mesmerising form has made Salah the favourite to pick up the Ballon d’Or on November 29, and here the 29-year-old set about showing just why he is worthy of that elite status.
With his current deal expiring in 18 months, Salah can effectively name his price to sign a contract extension, with Liverpool having little option but to give him what he wants in terms of wages and length of deal.
Harry Maguire and Luke Shaw are considered two of England’s most accomplished defenders, yet Salah made fools of them with his quick feet, clever movement and devastating finishing.
What made Liverpool’s emphatic win even more impressive is that it was achieved without their strongest front three, with Sadio Mane starting on the bench, replaced in the starting line-up by Diogo Jota, who fully justified his selection with a performance full of guile and industry.
Klopp subjected United and Solskjaer to the ultimate indignity by changing his strongest line-up for the biggest game of the season, the decision not to start with Mane supplemented by selecting Ibrahima Konate ahead of Joel Matip in defence, safe in the knowledge he could get away with it.
Effectively, Klopp’s team selection was his version of Sir Alex Ferguson’s infamous pre-match address of “lads, it’s only Spurs”, this time with United cast in the unwitting role of the fall-guys, a measure of just how far they have fallen.
Jubilant Liverpool fans taunted United with ironic chants of “Ole’s at the wheel” and implored the crestfallen Solskjaer to give them a wave, a request he judiciously ignored, the away fans revelling in the misery of their fiercest rivals.
For two decades, Liverpool were forced to watch as Sir Alex Ferguson’s United dominated the domestic scene, storming past their record title haul to become England’s most successful club. But never, in all that time, did Liverpool roll over as obligingly as United did on this occasion.
Liverpool closed the gap to one title in 2020 with their maiden Premier League triumph, this meeting providing conclusive proof of how far the Merseyside club have progressed, and how much United have regressed, since Ferguson’s retirement in 2013.
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United may have finished above Liverpool last season, the first time they have done so since Ferguson stepped down, but even Solskjaer was honest enough to admit that was down to the chronic injuries that plagued their oldest rivals, rather than a shift in the balance of power.
This season’s title race looks set to be a three-way duel between Liverpool, Manchester City and Chelsea, with United so far out of the equation they will be lucky to claim a Europa League place, let alone a Champions League spot.
Quite where United and Solskjaer go from here, only they know. For Liverpool and Salah, the only way is up. After last season’s blip, normal service has resumed.