COMMENT By Olasunkanmi Afiwajoye
Coming from the back of such impressive and successful 2017/18 season with Liverpool, Mohamed Salah was always going to face criticism when his form hit a snag.
Last term was sensational.
He was voted PFA Players’ Player of the Year and scored 32 Premier League goals to claim the Golden Boot.
In the Champions League, he scored 10 goals en route to the final, and also found the net in the FA Cup.
His World Cup may have been a disappointment — largely due to injury — but Salah was also influential in getting Egypt to the tournament for the first time since 1990.
It was a remarkable campaign, and such was the standard set last time, that many expected such a consistent level of output again this term
Perhaps, that demand is not entirely out of place, as the £34.3 million signing from AS Roma only failed to breach just two (Manchester United and Swansea) of his 19 Premier League opponents last season.
He broke and set individual, club, and league records in front of goal, developing the kind of aura that had many thinking he’d sustain that form this term.
He won three Player of the Months award (November 2017, February 2018, and March 2018), making him the first player to achieve such a feat in a single season.
He became the first African to score 30 PL goals, breaking Didier Drogba’s record of 29 goals, eclipsed Alan Shearer, Cristiano Ronaldo, and Luis Suarez’s records of 31 league goals, and also surpassed Liverpool legend Dean Saunders’ record of nine Uefa Cup goals in 1991/92 campaign with his 11 Champion League goals.
However, since the new season got underway, the Egyptian hasn’t looked like the same player, and he was substituted three times in his first seven league games, compared to two in 36 games last season.
He still looks menacing when arriving in the box, but there’s been some indecision creeping in – perhaps due to lack of confidence and composure at crucial moments.
If this has been a hangover of the shoulder injury he picked up in the UCL final, then Liverpool fans ought to be very concerned by the forward’s latest fitness setback, as he hobbled off the pitch during the Pharaohs’ Africa Cup of Nations victory over eSwatini at the weekend.
As he demonstrated at the World Cup, when carrying an injury, Salah is a shadow of the player who terrorised Premier League defences last term.
Liverpool will be desperate to get him back to his best as soon as possible.
Although Liverpool have won six out of their eight league matches so far this season, their form has been increasingly patchy. Ahead of their trip to Huddersfield this weekend, they are without a win in four games in all competitions.
While during the early portion of the season, Salah’s teammates’ qualities largely hid his own struggles, the form of both Sadio Mane and Roberto Firmino has dipped in recent weeks.
With Mane, Naby Keita and Virgil Van Dijk all picking up injuries — of varying severity — during the international break, Jurgen Klopp can ill-afford Salah’s slump to continue.
However, things aren’t necessarily and as bad as they may increasingly appear for Reds fans.
Ahead of the City game, Salah had netted three goals in the league, while at the same stage last term, he had only four. So things aren’t markedly worse than they were during his remarkable campaign of 2017-18.
While the international break has been bruising for Salah, there’s a hope that the attacker may just be playing his way back into form.
He netted his 40th Pharaohs goal as they defeated eSwatini—making him Egypt’s all-time top scorer in Africa Cup of Nations qualifiers—with a wonder goal direct from a corner.
It’s the kind of moment of magic that Salah produced regularly last time—albeit not quite as regularly—and will hopefully boost his confidence for the games to come.
There were moments last season which summed up how important confidence is to Salah.
Remember the clash at Anfield against eventual champions City; Ederson Moraes had rushed out to clear the danger but the ball fell to Salah who needed no second touch before sending an audacious chip over the Brazil goalkeeper.
— Mohamed Salah (@MoSalah) October 13, 2018
There was also his Puskas award-winning goal against Everton in a Merseyside derby. It was another moment of individual brilliance, as he received a pass from Joe Gomez at the edge of the opponent’s box, outmuscled a defender, wriggled his way past two others before curling the ball beyond Jordan Pickford.
As long as he can keep the fitness problems at bay, it’s surely only a matter of time before Salah plays his way back into form.
His injury issues after the eSwatini game may have stolen the headlines, but Salah’s audacious goal should come as a massive boost to Liverpool fans.
The confidence is returning, and the Egyptian could just be few games away from lighting up the season again.