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Did Mohamed Salah make the right move?
With his multi-million pound transfer to Chelsea complete, the Egyptian attacking midfielder is set to get a shot at one of Europe’s elite clubs. KingFut’s Ali Fakharany examines if this move was the best for his development & how he fits in tactically at Chelsea.
A Rising Star:
Mohamed Salah’s star has been rising in international football for quite some time now. KingFut outlined his rise to stardom in pictures over the past two years, from his humble beginnings at Arab Contractors to his multi-million move to Chelsea. Ever since his eye-catching displays in the Europa League last year against Tottenham and Chelsea, his name has been linked with multiple Premier League clubs, and it seemed a given that a bigger club would eventually give him his chance to shine after he scored in both legs against Chelsea in the Champions League.
With his move to a top-level club seeming inevitable, the bigger concern for most Egyptian fans was Salah finding the right club to continue his development. At the tender age of 21, Salah is still a little raw and has quite a way to develop if he is to fulfill his potential and become a world-class footballer, which makes finding the right club & atmosphere even more crucial. With Chelsea hijacking Liverpool at the last second for Salah (similar to their hijacking of the Willian deal from Tottenham at the 11th hour), Salah ended up going to Chelsea. The question is: will this move benefit his long-term development?
Which Club Fits Best?
For the purpose of discussion, we will assume that Salah’s only two options were Liverpool & Chelsea (despite their being rumors of Newcastle & Zenit being interested). There have been reports that Liverpool angered Basel with a low offer and so perhaps Salah did not have much of a say, but it seemed that both clubs were definitely options near deadline day. In order to decide which club would have helped Salah’s development more, comparisons between the manager, the tactical fit, and the competition seem most relevant to this discussion.
José Mourinho needs no introduction. The self-proclaimed ‘Special One’ has won all their is to win in world football. With league titles in Portugal, England, Italy and Spain, Mourinho’s success has known no limits since bursting onto the scene with Porto in 2004. With two Champions’ Leagues to his name, Salah would arguably be joining the world’s best manager and a sure shot at plenty of success.
Brendan Rodgers’ big break in coaching actually came when Mourinho invited him to become Chelsea’s youth team coach in 2004. Ever since, he has enjoyed quite a quick rise to the upper echelon of EPL managers. His rise to prominence came with the Welsh club Swansea, which he took from down in the Championship all the way up to 11th in their first season in the Premier League. He then moved to Liverpool, who he guided to a 7th placed finish in his first year. Although clearly not as succesful as Mourinho, he currently has Liverpool sitting in a top 4 spot with more than half the season gone in his second year, and his future is clearly bright.
Edge: Chelsea 1- Liverpool 1
Although Mourinho’s track record might win it here for most fans, its obvious that he’s had a tough time developing youngsters in his previous roles. Mourinho will definitely attempt to get the most out of Salah immediately & creates more upside for Salah overall, but his temper is notoriously short and is hampered by his win-now mentality (which may not bode well for a raw 21 year-old). Despite Rodgers’ lack of previous success, his track record with youngsters is much more encouraging and there are a number of players who have shown genuine improvement in his second year (Sterling, Henderson, Sturridge, etc..). As a result, this category is a push.
According to WhoScored.com, Liverpool’s most common formation has been a 4-3-3. Rodgers is known to be a very big fan of the 4-3-3 and he utilized it to full effect in his time with Swansea. Despite this, Liverpool have lined up with 2 strikers (3-5-2, 4-4-2) to accommodate their lethal strike duo of Suarez & Sturridge often, especially when both have been available. 4-3-3/4-2-3-1 has been used 16 times while a two striker system has been used 7. The two striker system has had some problems in big games however, and recently Rodgers has switched back to 4-3-3 with Sturridge left, Sterling right & Coutinho deep.
Liverpool preach ball retention, and solid movement amongst their front three, which may not suit Salah as ball retention is one of his few weaknesses! They are also characterized by creating scoring chances through quick counter attacks from deep through balls. Liverpool’s right side is usually dominated by a right-footed player, as opposed to Mohamed Salah’s tendency to cut in with his left.
Chelsea on the other hand, lineup in Mourinho’s favored 4-2-3-1 formation most often according to WhoScored. In 21 of their 23 matches, they have lined up with 4-2-3-1, with the other 2 being classified as 4-3-3. Chelsea’s favored formation has two deep midfielders and three attacking midfielders roaming beneath a central striker.
Chelsea are a side built to ruthlessly counter-attack. Oscar drops deep to open pockets of space and the combination of him & Hazard/Torres/Willian wreak havoc on the counter with Lampard arriving late to the box to add a goal threat. Mourinho has always liked his wingers to play on the opposite side of their preferred foot, meaning left-footed players on the right and vice versa. Mourinho also extremely values defensive work, and hard working wingers is key for his setup.
This quote by Mourinho accurately sums it up:
“I’ve always liked a right-sided player to be left-footed. I started with (Arjen) Robben and (Damien) Duff, then (Goran) Pandev at Inter, and (Angel) Di Maria and (Mesut) Ozil. Many clubs do it. It’s more than a tendency. I like wingers coming in on the inside for the penetrative movement, for the pass, for the shot. And Juan is the only player we have to do that on the right. I like wingers coming in on the inside for the penetrative movement, for the pass, for the shot.”
Edge: Chelsea 1- Liverpool 0
Looking at that Mourinho quote, it seems like Mohamed Salah is basically the perfect Mourinho winger. Fast, inverted, hard working, and guaranteed to fit into Mou’s tactical system with Juan Mata gone. In fact, Ivanovic has already compared him to Arjen Robben, an ex-Mourinho winger! Although Liverpool seem like a good tactical fit, Salah and Chelsea seem like a match made in counter-attacking heaven!
The most important factor that will probably make or break Salah’s development is his playing time. Young players need match practice to develop, and playing time will be crucial for Salah in order to get up and running. So who is Salah competing against?
At Liverpool, the RW spot that Salah plays in is primarily occupied with Raheem Sterling. Other potential candidates include Phillipe Coutinho, Jordan Henderson, & Victor Moses. Henderson is a possibility because when Lucas comes back, it will be sometimes hard to bench Gerrard/Lucas/Joe Allen (especally in tight games) and so Henderson may move wide. With Suarez and Sturridge undroppable at this current rate (37 goals between them!), their remains only 1 forward spot left for Sterling, Coutinho, Moses & potentially Henderson to compete for.
A quick look at Liverpool’s shot chart location from WhoScored shows that they have an even distribution of shots from right to left, a measure of their balance.
Direct Competitors Stats according to Squawka’s rating system:
As shown, Henderson has been the most influential Liverpool player with the most minutes. Coutinho has been their best attacking player, while Sterling has been average, especially in possession. These high minutes total may be inflated due to Suarez being suspended then Sturridge getting injured however!
Sterling has 3 goals, 2 assists in 1240 minutes
Coutinho has 2 goals, 3 assists in 1418 minutes.
Moses has 1 goals, 0 assists in 610 minutes
At Chelsea, there are only 4 players vying for 3 attacking midfielders spots. Hazard and Oscar have nailed down the left wing and the central spots, with both enjoying great seasons so far. Hazard leads Chelsea with 9 EPL goals, while Oscar has displaced two time player of the year Mata due to his superior discipline. That leaves Willian and Schurrle as Salah’s direct competitors.
A quick look at shot charts from WhoScored.com shows that Chelsea have been far superior down the left this year than down the right-hand side:
This shows the need for a RW goal-threat (perhaps the Egyptian Robben?)
Direct Competitors Stats according to Squawka’s rating system:
According to Squawka, Willian has outperformed Schurrle. Both have played relatively few minutes, although this could be due to Mata playing a 1000 minutes so far. Both are ranked lower than Liverpool’s trio with the exception of Willian outperforming Sterling so far.
Willian has 2 goals, 6 assists in 889 minutes.
Schurrle has 3 goals, 0 assists in 649 minutes.
In fact, Salah has more goals at Stamford Bridge than both do combined!
Edge: Chelsea 1 -Liverpool 1
This one was the closest call, and really could go either way. Despite most fans feeling like Salah had made the wrong call due to less playing time at Chelsea, there was less competition for a RW spot at Chelsea. This, combined with the fact that Chelsea schedule is much tougher due to UCL concerns ( as well as Schurrle usually playing on the left or even as a striker), Mourinho’s preference for a left-footed RW, & heavy rotation made Chelsea seem a more attractive option that it initially did. Salahwill probably not displace Willian immediately however, and will probably start some games when any of the starting trio need a rest, which may be often with the schedue heating up. Mata & De Bruyne combined played more than 50% of Chelsea’s EPL minutes, which bodes well for Salah now that they have moved.
Although competition in Liverpool is more fierce with Suarez and Sturridge dominating the side, it is probably of a lower quality with Sterling & Coutinho. There seems to be no clear-cut option on the right for Liverpool, unlike Chelsea with Willian increasingly impressive on the right. Rodgers may be reluctant to bench Sterling however, due to his stature as a Liverpool youngster. Rodgers insistence on midfield 3 hurts Salah here, as he has plenty of midfielders to choose from with Gerrard/Lucas/Henderson/Allen, which may lead him to shunt Henderson wide.
Final Result: Chelsea 3 – Liverpool 2
Liverpool would probably have been a safer choice for Salah, although it is still unclear how Rodgers will fit his lethal due of Suarez & Sturridge into one side, which hurt their score both tactically and in competition. Liverpool did not have the same need for a player of Salah’s skill-set, and although Rodgers seems great at developing youngsters, playing for ‘the Special One’ is a dream for all aspiring great players! Rodgers has not had success with young foreign signings as well, with Iago Aspas and Fabio Borini coming to mind. If Salah wants to succeed and become world-class, Mourinho will make sure if he’s up for it!
Despite Chelsea being the riskier move, Salah seems to have made the correct decision here. Although there are more things that can go wrong at Chelsea (benched, loaned out, not developed) the opportunity is clearly there as Chelsea need a left-footed RW, as evidenced by that Mourinho quote. The competition at Chelsea is also a little less fierce if a little more high on quality (with Willian the obvious starting RW as of now), and with 60+ games a season Salah will be used for rotation (especially because he’s cup-tied for the UCL). Even if Salah does not make an immediate impact, the learning curve with Mourinho and such a big club will be worth the move hopefully. High-risk, high-reward move for Salah here!
Let’s see if Mourinho can turn Salah into a world-class winger like he has so many others.