FEATURE: How Mohamed Salah will fit in at Liverpool
From the transfer fee, it is clear that Liverpool will be pinning much of their 2017/2018 season hopes on Mohamed Salah. Is he the right fit for Klopp? How will Liverpool reorganize to accommodate the Egyptian? Here is my take on how Salah will fit in at Anfield.
Mohamed Salah moving to Liverpool is a big deal, literally and figuratively. John Obi Mikel is the last recipient of CAF’s Most Promising Talent award to transfer to what can be considered a top European side. Despite a few hiccups, along the way, Salah has grown from strength to strength since winning this award way back in 2012. He has lived up to his billing.
Now he has to handle the expectation of his record transfer to Liverpool. The Reds’ previous record signing was a flop. But Klopp’s work with Sadio Mane is evidence that Salah can settle and do great things, despite the scrutinized price tag. This is his track record.
Liverpool in 2016/2017
Praises were heaped on Salah, last season, for his stellar performances at AS Roma. He was Edin Dzeko’s sidekick in securing UEFA Champions League qualification for the Italian capital club. Yet Liverpool’s struggles, in securing their league’s Champions League spot, were pinned entirely on a porous defense. After all, the Merseyside side conceded 42 goals in the league alone. Are the pundits right? Is, the Liverpool coach, Jurgen Klopp wrong to break the bank for this acquisition?
Liverpool’s famed attack was in fact outscored by three other teams. These are the three teams that finished above them. Goals remain king despite what this in-depth article argues. None of the Liverpool attackers even made the top ten of 2016/2017 Premier League top scorers list. A feat that all of Chelsea, Tottenham and Manchester City achieved.
Further argument for prioritizing this attacking signing is that they did perform well against other top sides in the Premier League. The kind of opponents you need a good defense for and the kind of opponents they will face in the Champions League next season. Klopp signed Salah to finish higher on the league table; to outdo Spurs as the “underdog” title contender.
Salah suits Liverpool
Liverpool’s style should suit the 25 year old Egyptian well. Klopp’s intense system requires high fitness. As per Opta, Liverpool covered the most distance and recorded the most sprints in the Premier League last season. Salah flourishes on movement, whether stretching play as a winger or getting into scoring positions as an inside-forward. Everyone also knows about his incredible acceleration and top speed. All these require high fitness levels to pull off successfully in a top five European league.
Arguably, even more important to Klopp is the requisite attitude. A high pressing team requires selflessness and concentration to always be ready to make defense-to-attack transitions as close to the opponent as is possible. The man who got along well with everyone at Roma will certainly not be a passenger at Liverpool and definitely not be a diva when required to go where it hurts. A few other Egyptian stars in the Premier League failed to display the humility of Mohamed Salah.
Two Sadio Manes are better than one
As much as he may choose to downplay it, Salah is not only the biggest name in Egyptian football but also he is perceived as a carbon copy of any of the biggest names in African football in one way or the other. Whether it’s cutting inside like Riyad Mahrez, having a killer instinct like Aubameyang or the ability to run like Sadio Mane. Nobody knows why he is not rated as highly as the trio, as a result. He has outshone them at national team level as well. But let’s leave that for another day.
At Liverpool, he is expected to be a clone of Mane. Their goal and assist tallies from last season are near-identical. Their respective styles of play are similar as well. The only problem is that Mane did brilliantly on the right wing; the wing that Mohamed Salah prefers to play in. Being a record signing, Momo is expected to start. So who will displace whom?
— The Redmen TV (@TheRedmenTV) June 20, 2017
Firminho should retain his starting position at the center of a front three. His national team compatriot, Coutinho will likely cede his position on the left wing for a classic 10 spot, leaving the flanks to the two speed merchants. Then, Wijnaldum and Henderson will take up holding roles to add to defensive solidity. The Premier League’s top four standing proved that two holders are superior to individual holders. Liverpool now begins to look more or less like Klopp’s 4-2-3-1 Dortmund side, where Gundogan and Bender covered for Gotze
As good as Mane is, it will make most sense for him to surrender his position to Salah. Salah is left footed and will require cutting inside on his stronger foot while Mane can do the same from the right wing. This will retain the narrow front three that is instrumental in closing down opponents and having better linkage by having players close to one another.
Liverpool will not veer too far away from the shared responsibilities in front of goal as we saw last season. Therefore, a good season for Salah will be keeping up with the highest goal scorer in the team, if it will not be him, while racking up more goals as a collective than they did last season. He has experienced the Premier League before, we expect Salah to hit the ground running under the true innovative coach in England.
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