Remember this date – June 22, 2017 – just over eight months ago and Mo Salah’s 25th birthday.
It was also the day the Egyptian phenomenon arrived in Liverpool from Roma for a then club-record fee of £36.9 million.
The signing was not met with that much frenzy at the time.
Salah had been named player of the season for Roma the previous term, as I Giallorossi finished second in Italy and claimed a Champions League place.
He had also finished as the club’s top goalscorer with 15 goals in all competitions (14 in Serie A), and six assists, bringing his tally to 29 goals in 65 appearances over two seasons.
But Serie A is not the Premier League and many Liverpool fans still remembered Salah’s underwhelming time at Chelsea in 2014/15 where he scored just two goals in 13 appearances before being shipped off on loan to Fiorentina then Roma, who made their loan deal permanent in 2016.
It was Jose Mourinho, then Chelsea manager, who shipped him in and shipped him out – one decision he may wish he had again.
Jurgen Klopp said at the time of Salah’s arrival: “His pace is incredible, he gives us more attacking threat and we are already strong in this area.
“Most important, though, for us, is that he is hungry, willing and eager to be even better and improve further.”
Even Klopp could not have predicted just how great that improvement would be.
With ten games still left in the season Salah is on track to become the most successful debutant in Premier League history.
Currently he sits in sixth place with 23 goals and eight assists – only one goal involvement behind Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink at Chelsea in 2017-18 and Alan Shearer at Newcastle in 1996-97.
There’s every likelihood that Salah will also pass No3 and No2 on the list – Sunderland’s Kevin Phillips (34) and United’s Robyn van Persie (35) – but he has some way to catch top of the list Andy Cole on 47 (34 goals and 13 assists).
But at this stage everything is possible. He already sits ahead of Shearer and only behind Cole in goals per game – 1.18 to 1.15.
Salah is already breaking records and winning awards weekly – 2017 African Player of the Year, 2017 BBC African Footballer of the Year, PL Player of the Month for November, PFA Player of the Month November and December and four Liverpool Player of the Months awards in his first five months at the club.
The goal against West Ham on the weekend was Salah’s 20th scored with his left foot this season, breaking the previous record of 19 held by – wait for it – the player Liverpool fans know as ‘God’, Robbie Fowler.
No player in the Premier League has ever scored more with his left boot in a single campaign – and fittingly it was also Liverpool’s 100th goal for the season. The century mark is the first time this has been achieved at Liverpool under Klopp.
Salah’s total of 30 goals this season in all competitions (23 PL, 6 Champions League, 1 FA Cup) is just one behind Luis Suarez’s magical final season (2013-14) when he scored 31.
He’s already gone past Michael Owen’s best (28), and now he has only Fernando Torres (33) and Fowler (36) ahead of him.
Both of those players are already legends of the club and Salah – in just his first season – is already heading that way.
It’s an astonishing performance for a player who was once dismissed as not up to Premier League standard.
Without a doubt he has proven that is not the case.
Many had expected the 24-year-old to rejoin Chelsea in the summer, only for Jose Mourinho’s men to swoop in and sign the Everton man for an initial £75million.
Lukaku has produced a solid early return by plundering 22 goals in all competitions at United, with the latest coming against Chelsea on Sunday.
The 24-year-old would go on to set up Jesse Lingard’s winner and be named man of the match for his display in the 2-1 win – the kind of big occasion when his impact has been long been doubted.
“That’s the situation around me,” Lukaku said, having scored his first league goal for United against a side currently in the top eight.
“I just need to keep working hard. I think I have got a nice record.
“I’ve scored a lot this season and I just want to keep going.
“I know that I can improve, and I want to improve and really work hard. I want to win trophies.
“We are still in the fight in two competitions. It’s not going to be easy but it’s a nice challenge.”
Asked if people forget how young he is, Lukaku said: “Yeah, because I’ve been in the game for so long.
“I started playing when I was 16. Year in, year out people expect 20 goals from me.
“I’ve been doing it for 10 years straight, so I think I’ve proved myself.
“You expect a bit more respect but it’s the situation we’re in. I don’t listen to it. I just want to improve and show the people what I can do on the pitch.”
Lukaku is two goals away from becoming just the 28th player to score 100 Premier League goals, yet he knows it will take more than that to win over some.
And with United still fighting on three fronts – albeit more in hope than expectation in the league – the striker is targeting collective glory rather than individual success.
Asked what it would take to get the respect he feels he is due, he said: “If I win – I want to win.
“As long as I win, and I lead my team to winning that’s when I will be really satisfied.
“As a football player, I don’t play for the individual. I think a lot of big players that we recognise today in the game are players who have won something, and I want to be part of them.
“The road is still far ahead, but I’m ambitious and I’ll work every day for my team to win – I’m not thinking about myself.”
Lukaku relishes the pressure that comes with “playing for the biggest club in the world” and does not regret spurning the chance to return to Chelsea in the summer.
“No, no, no,” he said. “When I make a choice it’s with my head and my heart. I made the right choice for me.
“As you can see, I’m in a good situation. I’m with a manager and players who push me every day. The challenge is there to win and it’s something that I wanted.”
Danny Drinkwater was also facing his former club on Sunday, with the Chelsea midfielder left frustrated by defeat to the club whose youth system he came through.
“We definitely should have got something from the game,” he said.
“In the first half we were very dominant. In the second half it was a bit different, it was more even, but we didn’t deserve to lose that game, no chance.”
Pep Guardiola collected his first silverware in England as his side blew Arsenal away to win 3-0 at Wembley on Sunday afternoon.
It was a tremendous reaction from Manchester City to crashing out of the FA Cup at League One Wigan just six days earlier.
That ended all talk of Guardiola’s side winning a quadruple this season but they remain heavy favourites to lift the Premier League title – boasting a 13-point lead over neighbours Manchester United with a game in hand – while they are also in the running to win a maiden Champions League title.
With such lofty ambitions, De Bruyne admitted the Wembley celebrations were somewhat muted as the players prepare for a league clash with the Gunners at the Emirates Stadium on Thursday night.
“It was quite mellow,” he said when asked about the dressing room after the game.
“It is very nice to win but it is just the beginning, we still have a lot to play for and Thursday is another game.
“It is very nice to already have a title in the bag, we have had a wonderful season until now and I think we fully deserved it.
“Now we have to go on and try to win the Premier League and do well in the Champions League.”
All three of the goals came from players who have been at Manchester City before Guardiola arrived at the Etihad Stadium and set about overhauling the squad with a massive budget.’
Guardiola himself praised the effect the likes of Kompany, Silva and Aguero have on the squad and De Bruyne echoed the sentiments of his manager.
“I think they help the younger lads to focus on what they have to do,” he added.
“Obviously they have been so, so long for the club so everybody knows their value, it was a very good performance from the team and it was nice to win this one.
“A lot of young players didn’t win a lot in their career. So it will help them to get the experience of playing this game, the way you need to handle it, the way you need to end it, yes it will help them in the end.”