Salah’s dream continues, Griezmann’s becomes a nightmare


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MADRID — When you’re hot, you’re hot, and nobody in world football is hotter than Liverpool‘s Mohamed Salah right now. Sometimes players hit such a rich vein of form that they catch every break and enjoy whatever slice of luck goes their way — and then there are those like Antoine Griezmann, who just can’t shake off that sense of nothing going right.

Liverpool’s 3-2 Champions League win against Atletico Madrid in Spain, which took Jurgen Klopp’s team five points clear at the top of Group B, was a showcase of the very best of football’s premier club competition and a reminder of why the game can live without the prospect of a breakaway Super League. But it was also a tale of two strikers — two world-renowned forwards in Salah and Griezmann — who are enjoying, and enduring, life at opposite ends of the spectrum at the moment.

Salah took his tally for this season to 12 goals in 11 games for Liverpool by scoring either side of Naby Keita‘s 20-yard volley to extend his team’s 100% record in Group B. And in terms of enjoying good fortune, his first goal — a left-foot shot after a dribble on the edge of the Atletico penalty area — was credited to the Egypt international despite appearing to hit both James Milner and Atleti defender Geoffrey Kondogbia on its way into the net.

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By scoring in the Estadio Metropolitano, Salah became the first Liverpool player to score in nine consecutive games for the club — a feat that Anfield legends such as Ian Rush, Roger Hunt, Luis Suarez, Michael Owen, Robbie Fowler and Fernando Torres all failed to match. Since he joined Liverpool from AS Roma in 2017, only Robert Lewandowski (37) has scored more than Salah’s 31 goals in the Champions League during that timescale. His goals in Madrid saw him eclipse Steven Gerrard as Liverpool’s all-time top scorer in the competition.

Salah is simply a majestic footballer enjoying the best period of his career right now. Everything he touches seems to either end up in the back of the net or lead to a goal for one of his teammates.

That used to be the case for Griezmann. During his first spell at Atletico, he scored 133 goals in 254 games and created 50 assists, but a two-year stint at Barcelona proved to be a frustrating experience in which the France international failed to gel with Lionel Messi.

Griezmann managed 35 goals and 17 assists in 102 appearances for Barca, but never quite lived up to the hype and he returned to Atleti on loan over the summer — with an obligation for his old club to sign him for £34 million at the end of the season — needing to reignite his career.

Being booed by the home fans on his first game back would have been tough to take, and it hasn’t got much better since then, with the 30-year-old still to register his first LaLiga goal or assist since rejoining Diego Simeone’s team. Griezmann scored in a 2-1 win against AC Milan at the San Siro last month, but he was still waiting for his first on home turf.

Yet against Liverpool, during a blistering first half of counterattacking by both sides, it looked as though the old Griezmann was back.

After Liverpool had raced into a 2-0 lead through Salah and Keita after just 13 minutes, Griezmann dragged Atletico back into the game by scoring with a cool left-foot finish from 15 yards on 20 minutes. Griezmann then proceeded to inspire his team’s attacking forays and was only denied a second when Alisson blocked his shot following a 28th-minute counter.

But Griezmann scored again on 34 minutes with another classy finish when he received Joao Felix’s pass and a took a touch before guiding a left-foot shot beyond Alisson from just inside the penalty area. He celebrated as though he had finally been welcomed back into the fold by the Atleti fans who had felt betrayed by his move to Camp Nou in 2019. This was his breakthrough night.

But then it all came crashing down eight minutes into the second half, when Griezmann’s dream turned into a nightmare. A high challenge on Roberto Firmino, which caught the Liverpool forward on the side of the head with his studs, led to Griezmann being shown a red card by referee Daniel Siebert. It initially appeared to be a harsh decision, but subsequent replays showed it to be a dangerous challenge and, despite being unintentional, Griezmann had to go off, becoming the first player in Champions League history to score twice and be sent off in the same game — an unenviable distinction.

“The red card was for sure unlucky but it is a red card,” Klopp said. “A foot in the face. It can happen.”

Some guys get all the luck and others get none, and Griezmann must wonder where his next break will come from. Just when he was making headway and showing the player he used to be, misfortune befell him again.

Salah has no such worries. When defender Mario Hermoso conceded a penalty with a clumsy challenge on Diogo Jota on 75 minutes, there was no doubt that Salah was going to take it and score, and he did. It proved to be the winning goal, with Atletico seeing a penalty decision overturned following the intervention of VAR six minutes later.

Atletico coach Simeone, angered by the decisions against his team, stormed off at the end without shaking Klopp’s hand, prompting the Liverpool manager to wave sarcastically, with a broad grin, as his opposite number headed down the tunnel.

“We don’t like that but yes, the situation is clear,” Klopp said. “I want to shake his hand. His reaction for sure, like mine, was not so cool.

“The next time we see each other we will shake hands definitely. It’s nothing. He was obviously angry, not with me but with the game. There is nothing else.”

Liverpool and Salah were able to grin all the way back to the airport. As for Atletico and Griezmann, it was another night to forget.

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