WOLVERHAMPTON, ENGLAND - Liverpool will be on top of the English Premier League at Christmas after beating Wolverhampton Wanderers 2-0 thanks to goals by Mohamed Salah and Virgil van Dijk on Friday.
Salah became the league’s top scorer with 11 goals when he produced a deft flicked finish to turn in a driven cross by Fabinho in the 18th minute at rain-hit Molineux.
Salah also provided the cross that was guided in left-footed from close range by Van Dijk, capping a brilliant overall display by the Dutch center back at both ends of the field.
Liverpool extended its unbeaten start to the league season to 18 games and ensured it cannot be toppled by Manchester City before Christmas. Second-place City, the defending champion, trails Liverpool by four points ahead of its home game against Crystal Palace on Saturday.
Eight of the last nine champions in the Premier League were in first place at Christmas.
“It was perfect football,” Liverpool manager Juergen Klopp said of the performance, “especially on a night like tonight when it was difficult to play proper football.
“We have Manchester City waiting, and that will be really tough for the boys.”
City won the title last season with a record 100 points, but with the way this season has played out, Klopp believes even more might be needed this time.
“Everybody asks me about the situation, first in the table and all that stuff and that the last four times a team was first in the table at Christmas they won the league, but was it ever such a tight race?” Klopp said.
“So far it looks like a really special season, 48 points before Christmas is crazy.
“But there are other teams. Chelsea, Manchester City, Tottenham, Arsenal, they will probably win, then they will have 40-something points, nobody is dropping points from one down to five.
“You will probably need 105 to be champions, you don’t know!” he added.
Tottenham, in third place, has 39 points ahead of this weekend’s clash with Everton, while fourth-place Chelsea has 37 before its home clash with Leicester City.
With Liverpool looking so solid at the back — this was its 11th clean sheet so far — and increasingly lethal going forward, questions will be asked if Klopp’s team can go through the campaign undefeated to match Arsenal’s feat in the 2003-04 season.
It’s distinctly possible if Liverpool’s two signature players keep performing.
Salah seemed slightly short of confidence in the early months, particularly when he snatched at chances in front of goal, but he looks to be back to the form that saw him finish last season as the league’s top scorer with 32 goals.
His finish against Wolves was classy, meeting Fabinho’s low cross from the right byline with a first-time flick with the outside of his left foot. The ball went past Wolves goalkeeper Rui Patricio before he could react.
Salah moved ahead of Arsenal striker Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang on the scoring charts and isn’t too far behind his incredible scoring rate from last season. At this stage, he had 14 goals.
Then there was Van Dijk, the world’s most expensive defender at $99 million, who was majestic at the back in clearing high balls into the box and, at one stage in the second half, even outpacing Wolves’ jet-heeled forward, Adama Traore, as they raced down the right wing.
The Netherlands international has always had an eye for goal — he scored in his debut for Liverpool last season, for example — but this was his first of the season for the club in any competition.
The ball was headed out to Salah at the edge of the box and the forward whipped in a cross that Van Dijk, getting between two Wolves players, converted from the edge of the six-yard box.
Among the celebrating fans in Liverpool’s vocal away end was Trent Alexander-Arnold, the team’s right back who is out injured.
The one negative for Liverpool on the night was the sight of midfielder Naby Keita being forced off the field in the second half with an apparent lower back injury.