WAS SALAH’S WON­DER SEA­SON A ONE- OFF?

Australian Four Four Two - - PREMIER LEAGUE -

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?

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