Liverpool: Could Mo Salah be a one-season wonder?
It was the same statement levelled against Harry Kane, but can Salah similarly quieten his doubters?
Last season was a real milestone for Liverpool as they put themselves back into the upper echelons of European football with a stunning Champions League run that ended in defeat against Real Madrid in the final.
At the centre of that miraculous season was former Chelsea winger Mo Salah. Signing for a club record fee last summer, the Egyptian was expected to improve Liverpool’s already formidable attacking options, but not even the most ardent of fan would have anticipated just how greatly this improvement was to be.
Salah netted 44 times – 32 of which came in the Premier League – as he guided the Reds to a Champions League final and won the league Golden Boot. He was also named the PFA Player of the Year award, the Liverpool Player of the Year and the Football Writers’ Player of the Year.
He became magic. The man for the moment. Everything Salah touched seemingly turned to gold as he wriggled his way through endless streams of defenders game after game. But, can he do it again this year?
Yes, he can
There was a time where people called Harry Kane a one-season wonder. Back in the summer of 2015 as the Englishman came off the back of a 21-goal haul the previous season, many expected Kane to simply tail off. To stop scoring.
He didn’t, though. He won two back-to-back Golden Boots, started scoring in the Champions League and then claimed a World Cup Golden Boot.
Salah faces similar criticism. Similar doubt. Just as Kane did, however, there’s no reason to doubt Salah achieving a similar level of performance. Why not? His World Cup participation was minimal, he’s fit again following a shoulder injury and full of confidence.
Liverpool, moreover, have built a system around him that gives Salah the tools to play his best football. Just look at where he scores his goals in the Premier League – 25 in the penalty box, three outside the box and four in the six-yard box.
The whole team was geared towards giving him, Firmino and Mane the best chances of scoring goals and it worked to perfection.
Firmino, for example, drops deeper to create space for Salah to attack, whilst Mane has stylistically changed from direct winger to take on more of a playmaking role focussing on creating chances. The Reds made 489 key passes in 2017/18 – second only to Manchester City – which means Salah will continue to be fed opportunities. It’s a case of getting into the right positions and scoring.
Maybe Salah won’t score as many goals, but his energy, skill, and teamwork will never diminish. Hence, he’ll be just as important.
He won’t replicate his form
Salah had never scored more than 20 goals in a season before he signed for Liverpool and therefore it would be unrealistic to expect him to score at a 40+ pace again.
The system last year at Liverpool got the best out of Salah, but who is to say that teams will not wise up to Liverpool’s play and target Salah to stop his goal threat?
Last year could be seen as an anomaly because the Egyptian has never produced at that rate before and often it felt like luck was on his side.
In the Premier League last season Salah took 144 shots and managed to score 32 goals. As a comparison, Kane, seen by most as the deadliest striker in the league, scored 30 goals from 184 shots.
Salah scored at a rate of 0.97 goals per game in all competitions, and compared to his expected goals (xG) for the season, he outperformed, which suggests that he’ll struggle to do so again this season. Salah’s xG per 90 minutes was 0.77.
The likely outcome
Can Salah reproduce his form from last season? Probably not. He scored a ridiculous amount of goals and it felt like everything he touched flew into the back of the net. He also never suffered a downturn in form and rarely picked up any injuries – until the Champions League final, of course.
Salah’s xG suggests that he won’t reproduce his form, but this doesn’t mean he won’t still play well as his game isn’t solely goal-scoring.
Expecting him to net 40+ goals again this season is unrealistic, but failing to reach that milestone wouldn’t reduce Salah to a one-season wonder. Regardless of his goals scored, Salah is a player here to stay.
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