As Liverpool have struggled to maintain their push for the Premier League in recent weeks, there has been one standout issue. Mohamed Salah is not quite the player he was last season.
Suggesting the Egyptian is having a bad season is a foolish notion on multiple fronts. He remains Liverpool’s top goalscorer with 20 so far, five ahead of Sadio Mane. 17 of those goals have come in the Premier League, meaning he’s just one behind Sergio Aguero in those charts. Factor in his seven assists and he’s level with the Argentine when it comes to overall goal contributions. The pair sit on 24 respectively in that regard. In fact, Salah has scored more goals individually than Huddersfield Town have managed collectively.
Those are not the kind of numbers representative of a player enduring a bad season. Indeed, if Salah hadn’t set such ridiculous heights for himself last season he would be considered as having another fine campaign.
Yet, those who have watched him this season will tell you a different story. The goals have continued to come, albeit in lesser amounts, but the scintillating performances have not been there. Some of it has been down to Liverpool’s change in style. Rather than the front foot, all-out attack of the past, the Reds have adopted a more cautious approach this season. There has been a distinct lack of chaos and considerably more control to fuel a title tilt. Players like Salah have thus suffered.
The Egyptian thrived amid that chaos last season but has been forced to adapt this year. In some aspects, it’s made him a better all-around player. There is no denying he contributes more to the team than he did during his first, sensational year on Merseyside. In some regards, it has been worth his goal tally being reduced for that to happen.
But that does not take away from the fact that it is. Nor does it mean that Salah’s lesser performances should be ignored. In the numbers, he is 12 goals and seven assists short of his total from last season. Likewise, he is falling short when it comes to his expected goals and expected assists. In the league, he’s having fewer shots per game whilst also being caught offside and dispossessed more often.
In the Champions League, it’s even worse. Not only is he managing fewer shots per game but also key passes and dribbles. At the same time, he’s suffering more dispossessions and unsuccessful touches per game compared to last season. The numbers tell a tale of a player who’s nowhere near the level he attained last year.
That is definitely what has been on show in recent weeks. As Liverpool have suffered, so has Salah. He’s now gone four games without a goal, his longest in Red. It’s the second time he’s gone on such a run this year. His longest streak without a goal was three games last season and that also only happened twice.
It’s led to suggestions of a slump. His performances against Manchester United and Everton were certainly indicative of one. Against United Luke Shaw played him out of the game. That game saw him manage the lowest touches of any outfield Liverpool player and just four more than Alisson. Despite that, he was dispossessed six times. That was more than the rest of his teammates combined and the most of any player in the game. To put it into context, Marcus Rashford suffered the second most dispossessions with a total of three.
Against Everton, it was his finishing that let him down. Presented with two glorious chances to open the scoring, Salah wasted both. A poor touch in both instances allowed Jordan Pickford and Michael Keane to deny him respectively. Last season the chances would have been converted and Liverpool would have been victorious. Instead, they were wasted and the Reds lost more momentum in the title race.
They were indicative of the campaign that Salah has had. He’s been good but nowhere near as good as he was last season. There is likely more than one cause of the problem. A change in style from Liverpool has not helped him. He’d had to adapt and that’s affected his numbers. Such were the heights he hit last season, it was also likely he’d endure something of a dip this year.
That does not take away from the fact he’s not the same player. Liverpool need to find a way to bring back some of the old magic. Without it, Salah is not the same and their title bid is taking a big hit.
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