Liverpool: Is Mohamed Salah the next Riyad Mahrez?

Is Mohamed Salah the next in a long litany of Premier League one-season wonders?

by Jon Mackenzie

REUTERS/Amr Abdallah Dalsh

There is a curious quality about football when it comes to the relationship between the individual and the part.

Every season seems to throw up a couple of players who prove fundamental to the team who eventually wins the domestic league or triumphs in European competition with these players becoming metonymic for the teams themselves.

When Leicester won the Premier League in 2015/16, it was Riyad Mahrez and Jamie Vardy who became the poster boy of the campaign.

During Liverpool’s period of Champions League ascendency, it has been Mohamed Salah who has taken up that mantle.

The question is: will Mohamed Salah’s future career mirror that of Jamie Vardy – who has maintained the high levels he set in 2015/16? Or that of Riyad Mahrez – who has not.

The Rise and Fall of Riyad Mahrez

It must be said that Riyad Mahrez is something of an outlier in the world of One-Season Wonders.

It is not the case that his was a career that experienced a purple patch in the midst of an otherwise passable outlay.

Mahrez spent much of his career in France playing for the Le Havre reserve side, only breaking into the first team late on.

Reuters/Ed Sykes

Having moved to Leicester, things did not immediately turn around for the Algerian: while he scored 17 goals in 2015/16, he has only managed to hit double figures in one of his five other seasons at the club, netting ten times so far in the present campaign.

Similarly, when it comes to assists, Mahrez clearly peaked in Leicester’s remarkable Premier League-winning season with ten assists – a figure he has only approached in England in the present season.

Off-field woes

Of course, the drop-off that Mahrez has gone through after his momentous rise in 2015/16 can be explained more by off-field events than on.

With transfer rumours following the Leicester City midfielder following his break-out season, much of the subsequent disappointment of Mahrez’s career can be read as a direct response to this uncertainty about his future.

Reuters/Tony O’Brie

The season following Leicester’s Premier League crown was followed by an approach by Arsenal that fell through and, even this season, Manchester City’s winter break advances affected the form of the Algerian.

In the intervening time since the Manchester City transfer speculation, Mahrez has begun producing the sorts of levels of performance that we saw three seasons ago, suggesting that the stability of knowing where he will be is enough to take him back to his previous levels.

As for Mo?

How, then, would Mohamed Salah fit into this sort of paradigm? Could he be in danger of doing a Mahrez and dropping off the sort of level we have come to expect of him?

On the one hand, while this season is clearly an outlier in the Egyptian’s career to date, there is no sense that Salah is having a season that is diametric to what has gone before.

Reuters/John Sibley 

His goal-scoring is at Premier League-record-breaking levels at present but he has always scored relatively highly at the majority of the clubs he has played for.

The real question, then is: how will Salah respond when the inevitable offers from big clubs come in over the summer? Will he be able to resist these off-field advances from affecting his performances on-pitch?

There’s no ‘i’ in team (but there is a me)

The point also needs to be made that Riyad Mahrez and Mohamed Salah find themselves in entirely different contexts.

The Algerian was an integral member of a Leicester City side who blew away the odds in the Premier League. It was an outstanding achievement that was never going to be repeated across history, let alone by the same team the following year.

Mohamed Salah plays for Liverpool: now a solid top-four side who have made their way into the Champions League final.

While Salah’s levels may drop next season, there can be no supposition that the fall will be as meteoric as Mahrez’s. 

For Salah will fall relative to his team, whereas Mahrez and his team both plummeted.

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Jon Mackenzie

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