Mohamed Salah leads Liverpool to UCL with easy win over Brighton
LIVERPOOL, England -- Three points on Liverpool's 4-0 win over Brighton as Mohamed Salah broke more records to confirm a top-four finish for the Reds.
1. Salah makes history again
Salah created his own piece of Premier League history by writing Luis Suarez, Cristiano Ronaldo and Alan Shearer out of the record books with his 32nd league goal of the season as Liverpool secured a top-four finish with an easy win over Brighton at Anfield.
In Liverpool's final game before the Champions League final against Real Madrid in Kiev on May 26, Salah took just 24 minutes before opening the scoring to claim the record in a 38-game Premier League season.
Having arrived from AS Roma last summer in a £36.9 million transfer, Salah has exceeded all expectations in his first season at Anfield. He has claimed both the PFA Player of the Year and Football Writers' Footballer of the Year awards, with the Premier League Player of the Season title also confirmed over the weekend.
But not only has Salah swept the board in terms of personal honours, his contributions to Jurgen Klopp's team have been crucial at key stages of the campaign.
Salah's goals in the Champions League quarterfinal tie against Manchester City inspired Liverpool to victory in that doubleheader, and he also delivered decisive goals against Roma in the semis.
Against Brighton he swept home early, then put the ball on a plate for young Dominic Solanke to score later on. Salah has turned it on when it mattered the most, and that's why he has been such an outstanding performer this season.
But with one game to go, he could end the campaign as a true Liverpool legend if he helps the team win a sixth European Cup by defeating Real in the Ukraine.
2. Klopp gets perfect preparation for Kiev
Klopp could not have scripted a better 90 minutes of preparation for the Champions League final had he tried, with even Adam Lallana climbing off the substitutes' bench to prove his fitness with a late cameo appearance.
With 13 days to go until the clash with holders Real Madrid, it is now all about fine-tuning and fitness for Klopp's players.
This game against Brighton had the potential to become a fly in the ointment, with Liverpool unable to take it too easy because it needed to avoid the defeat that could have allowed Chelsea to sneak into the top four.
So Klopp had to take risks with his starting XI and field many of the players who will face Real, knowing that each one was only a stretch away from a hamstring pull or a bad tackle that could result in an injury that would rule them out of the final.
But Brighton, having already confirmed their Premier League survival, were happy to enjoy a day in the Merseyside sunshine at Anfield, with only Shane Duffy's early heavy challenge on Salah raising an eyebrow on the Liverpool bench.
So rather than become an awkward distraction, this game enabled Liverpool to end the season on a high without unnecessary drama.
All that matters now are the next 12 days and ensuring that everyone is fit and healthy for the game that will define Liverpool's season.
3. Solanke finally breaks his duck
It has been a tough first season at Liverpool for Solanke, but he will go into the next campaign with a spring in his step after finally ending his long wait for his first goal.
Signed from Chelsea last summer, Solanke has all the attributes to be a success at Liverpool, but the 20-year-old is still raw and firmly in the "one for the future" bracket.
His second-half effort against Chris Hughton's team was his first in 21 Premier League appearances for Liverpool, but he had also failed to score in any of his six games in other competitions too, so this one was a long time coming.
Solanke will probably find himself sitting on the bench for the Champions League final and could yet emerge as an unlikely hero in that competition. But next season and beyond are what Liverpool signed him for, and there will be hope at Anfield that his first goal will give him something to build on.
An entire season without a goal is not good for any forward, regardless of the level of competition he is playing against, but Solanke has at least now avoided that unwanted distinction.
Mark Ogden is a senior football writer for ESPN FC. Follow him @MarkOgden_