WAS SALAH’S WONDER SEASON A ONE- OFF?
Hands up if you saw that coming. The Liverpool
Echo certainly didn’t, anyway. “He remains unproven at the highest level,” wrote the newspaper after Mo Salah’s arrival from Roma last summer for a club-record $66 million. “It’s a big outlay and risk for a player of his kind.” In fact, there was no risk.
You just had to look at the numbers – instructive numbers which prove that the Egyptian’s stellar 2017-18 season is no anomaly. Four seasons ago, he scored with 20.7 per cent of his shots for Fiorentina, then 19.4 per cent, followed by 18.8 per cent in two campaigns at Roma.
Salah’s brilliance is not isolated but consistent, even if 44 goals in 52 games is a scarcely credible return for someone who’d never previously managed more than 20 in a season, regardless of his Serie A accuracy. The big difference was in Salah’s Champions League form. Only Cristiano Ronaldo outscored his 10 goals (excluding qualifying), which was comfortably his best return in continental competition.
Liverpool never looked like scoring after he went off in the semi-final first leg against Roma, letting a 5-0 advantage slip to 5-2, and were hugely diminished in the final after he was forced off by Sergio Ramos’ Machiavelli tribute.
Some doubt Salah can replicate a season in which he scored six more than his ‘expected goals’ total. Manager Jurgen Klopp, however, has no such doubts. “I’d like to show you all of the scouting footage we had,” said Klopp after Salah held off Leicester’s Harry Maguire, before swivelling and finishing with typical aplomb.
“The second goal against Leicester – a goal like this was not involved. He is so physically strong.” Salah, now 26, has evolved under the German. At his gaffer’s insistence, the wideman now occupies central areas more regularly, making his sashays into the box more dangerous and likely to end in a goal.
“I tried all year to get him to play more centrally and he kept going wide to get the ball,” said former Roma boss Luciano Spalletti, now managing Inter. “He now seems to understand what his starting position has to be, and is drawing great benefit from it.”
Salah 2.0, a genuine world-class talent, may be here to stay. “Of course I expected to score as many goals as I have,” he has said. “Come on – I know I’m good.” How long can Liverpool realistically keep him?