Salah and Kane could decide Liverpool and Tottenham's top-four battle
LIVERPOOL, England -- For a moment, as the dust settles on one of the games of the season, it is worth admiring the qualities of Mohamed Salah and Harry Kane after the two forwards offered such compelling evidence of their class during Liverpool's pulsating 2-2 draw with Tottenham at Anfield.
Two great players at the top of their game delivered when it mattered for their team, with Kane displaying immense mental strength and courage to score a 95th-minute penalty in front of The Kop, fewer than 10 minutes after seeing Liverpool goalkeeper Loris Karius save his earlier spot kick.
Kane's goal saw him reach 100 in the Premier League after just 141 games; only Alan Shearer, who broke the century barrier after just 124 games, has reached three figures figure quicker.
As for Salah, his third-minute goal strike, which opened the scoring, saw him hit 20 Premier League goals this season and made him the fastest to the mark for Liverpool -- quicker than Robbie Fowler, Michael Owen, Fernando Torres and Luis Suarez.
It is difficult to comprehend that the summer signing from Roma made just 19 senior appearances in two years at Chelsea -- mostly under Jose Mourinho -- before being discarded in 2016 and regarded not good enough to make the grade. Salah has proved himself good enough since returning to England, and every goal he scores must feel like salt being rubbed into a gaping wound at Stamford Bridge.
His second goal against Spurs, two minutes into second-half stoppage time, was a slalom run through the visitors' defence before a cool dink over goalkeeper Hugo Lloris. Speaking on Sky Sports in the UK, former Liverpool defender Jamie Carragher claimed that only Lionel Messi was capable of scoring in similar fashion.
It looked like being the winner, as well, but then, after Virgil van Dijk was adjudged to have fouled Erik Lamela, Kane stepped up to redeem himself. Following his earlier miss, Tottenham's talisman shrugged off the pressure to send Karius the wrong way to make the score 2-2 on the day and, in his personal duel with Salah to be this season's Premier League top scorer, 22-21 to Kane.
Manchester City midfielder Kevin De Bruyne and winger Raheem Sterling would appear to be the leading candidates in the battle to be crowned Footballer of this Year, but Salah and Kane are pushing them close. And if City's incredible season sees voting diluted further among Pep Guardiola's players, Kane or Salah could sneak through and win the prize.
Yet personal honours will count for little if all of the goals they score fail to ensure tangible success for their respective clubs. Liverpool and Tottenham are still in the Champions League and Spurs also have the FA Cup to target, but the top four remains the primary aim. Sunday's result means Jurgen Klopp's side stay third, two points and two places above Mauricio Pochettino's men.
Salah has already surpassed expectations at Anfield this season; not even Klopp can have anticipated such an impressive contribution from a player who is not even a central striker, but a winger with the ability to ghost past defenders and score at will. Salah has similar qualities to Arjen Robben, but the Dutch winger never scored as regularly as Salah.
Kane, meanwhile, is Mr. Consistency, having broken the 20 league-goal barrier for the fourth successive campaign. Tap-ins, headers, penalties, free kicks, inside the box, outside the box, nothing is off the table in Kane's repertoire. That is why he is crucial to England's World Cup prospects this summer.
Salah will also be in Russia with Egypt, and the continuation of this form by both men for club and country could see Real Madrid attempt to make one of them football's first £200 million player. It is a subplot to watch: If Liverpool and/or Tottenham fail to achieve Champions League qualification, can the clubs hold on to their star men?
Both are under lucrative long-term contracts, both the poster boys for their team and, in Kane's case, one is expected to lead his club into a new stadium next season. But it is all about playing at the highest level and in the biggest competition against the most glamorous opponents.
Real are in need of young, exciting reinforcements this summer and will happily break the bank -- maybe for both -- and so, while Liverpool and Tottenham will believe they can hold on to their prized assets, the only way to be certain is by being able to offer Champions League football.
Mark Ogden is a senior football writer for ESPN FC. Follow him @MarkOgden_