Mohamed Salah reaches 20 goals as Liverpool seal perfect Champions League group

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Mohamed Salah scored his 20th goal of the season in a 2-1 win over AC Milan in the San Siro as Liverpool became the first English side to win all six Champions League group matches.

Even in a dead rubber, in a team showing eight changes and on a less-than-perfect pitch, the Egypt international’s insatiable quest for goals showed no signs of waning.

He was quickest to react when goalkeeper Mike Maignan failed to hold Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain’s shot to score with a 36th-minute strike to equalise Fikayo Tomori’s opener.

Divock Origi’s first Champions League goal since their 2019 final victory settled the tie but unlike Saturday’s added-time heroics at Wolves, he had to share the headlines with Salah.

The Egyptian is the first Liverpool player to score 20-plus in five consecutive seasons since Ian Rush, who managed it six times up to 1986-87, and the third-quickest in the club’s history – behind Rush and the late Roger Hunt – to reach the mark.

He is already three ahead of his tally at the same stage of his record-breaking 44-goal maiden campaign.

Every goal adds more weight to his argument for a salary structure-busting new contract at Anfield with just over 18 months left on his current deal, which manager Jurgen Klopp admits cannot be sorted quickly despite a mutual desire to extend his stay.

Salah’s professionalism and excellent fitness record suggests the investment in a player who turns 30 in June would not be frivolous and is one of the reasons he started this game when eight of his team-mates from the weekend did not.

Milan’s Zlatan Ibrahimovic, centre, shields the ball from Ibrahima Konate
Milan’s Zlatan Ibrahimovic, centre, shields the ball from Ibrahima Konate (Fabrizio Carabelli/PA)

Alisson Becker and Sadio Mane were the others retained, with the likes of Virgil Van Dijk, Jordan Henderson and Thiago Alcantara not even travelling to Italy which meant Klopp named five academy players on the bench – with another, Tyler Morton, making a second successive start in Europe.

Despite that Milan – needing to win and Porto and Atletico Madrid to draw to reach the last 16 – appeared reluctant to test their opponents early on and Liverpool, with only their perfect group record to play for, did most of the attacking but with a lack of intensity.

Milan’s first corner in the 28th minute saw them take the lead as Takumi Minamino made a mess of the inswinging cross, forcing Alisson to hurriedly parry, and Tomori poked home from close range.

Fikayo Tomori, centre right, scores for AC Milan
Fikayo Tomori, centre right, puts Milan in front (Fabrizio Carabelli/PA)

Origi, given a rare start, forced the first save from Maignan but the Milan goalkeeper could not hold on when Oxlade-Chamberlain unleashed one and Salah made the half-volley finish look much easier.

The club records of the first player to score in five group games in one season and also the most goals (seven) in the same phase are mere footnotes for Salah.

Origi, however, is a man carving out his own slice of Liverpool history and a looping 55th-minute header from Mane’s parried shot after he had robbed Tomori only added to his cult status.

Divock Origi, left, heads Liverpool's second goal
Divock Origi, left, heads Liverpool’s second goal (Luca Bruno/AP)

With the return of former Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard to Anfield with his Aston Villa side on Saturday, Salah and Mane were rested for the final 26 minutes as Naby Keita and Joe Gomez, after more than a month each out of action, were given minutes.

Late European debuts for academy players Conor Bradley and Max Woltman, his first senior appearance, capped an ideal night for Klopp.

The confidence which is coursing through this side was embodied by fifth-choice centre-back Nat Phillips.

In his first start of the season, after just 45 minutes against Preston and a late substitute appearance versus Atletico Madrid last month, his drag-back in his own penalty area sent two Milan players racing past and allowed him to launch a counter-attack.

Even when Milan did break through Alisson saved from Franck Kessie, underlining Liverpool’s strength at both ends of the pitch, and opponents will be watching Monday’s draw anxiously hoping to avoid the six-time champions.

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