Mohamed Salah and the Curse of Normalised Brilliance

13 September 2020 04:00

Leeds United marked their return to top flight football with a thrilling, helter-skelter 4-3 loss to Liverpool at Anfield on Saturday.

Amid the wild pressing, jumbling man-marking and Marcelo Bielsa's bucket, Mohamed Salah quietly and efficiently went about his business, adding three more goals to an increasingly imperious tally.

Salah's treble on Saturday took his total to 78 strikes in just 122 Premier League matches. Among players with more than 100 appearances in the competition, only three can better Salah's sensational scoring rate of 0.64 goals per game.

Yet, after the season opener, his Liverpool teammate Virgil van Dijk felt the need to come out and defend Salah following some suggestions the Egypt international had suffered a dip in form.

There were few signs of anything resembling a decline for Salah in Saturday's seven-goal thriller.

Three minutes into the contest Liverpool's number 11 had already wiggled away from the forest of white-shirted bodies surrounding him in the box to manufacture a shot (the first of a whopping seven he would take in the match).

Salah's venomous effort took a circuitous route onto Robin Koch's arm and Michael Oliver, perhaps harshly, pointed to the spot. The crisp conversion fired into the roof of the net reflected the alert sharpness Salah played with throughout the entirety of the contest.

30 minutes - and three goals - later, Salah made it 3-2 in emphatic fashion. Having cleverly hung back at a set piece while Van Dijk's colossal frame sucked in at least three Leeds players, Salah effortlessly spanked a half-volley into the top corner.

Another penalty gave the right winger an opportunity for his third Premier League hat-trick which he coolly slotted past Illan Meslier - the only one of his goals which didn't batter the roof of the net.

However, Salah offered - as he so regularly does - much more than just goals.

No Liverpool player had more touches, completed more dribbles or teed up more chances than the 28-year-old at an empty Anfield. When Leeds played a short goal kick, he was up alongside his fellow forwards snapping at the heels of the Championship champions. When Klopp's side were content with sitting slightly deeper, Salah expertly blocked off the easy passing lanes.

Van Dijk stressed that, as a team, 'obviously, we appreciate him' but Salah's remarkable performances can get swept away with the unrelenting excellence of the squad he's part of.

The end of Liverpool's three decade-long crusade for a top flight title last season prompted whole-heartedly deserved acclaim. Van Dijk, Jordan Henderson, Sadio Mané, Trent Alexander-Arnold and Alisson were all pivotal to this success and each was recognised for their efforts with a vote in the FWA Player of the Year award.

Yet, Salah's name was nowhere to be found on this illustrious list. As the club's top scorer, he also laid on 12 assists across all competitions, a tally only Alexander-Arnold bettered with 14.

Salah may be suffering from the sky-high expectations thrust upon him after his record-breaking debut season with Liverpool. Thanks to an entirely unrepeatable finishing hot streak, Salah netted 32 Premier League goals in 2017/18, breaking the record haul for a 38-game season after wildly outperforming his expected goals.

A return to the realms of mere mortals (finishing-wise) saw his actual output dip in the following two campaigns (although 22 league goals in 2019 was still enough to secure the Golden Boot). Yet, his underlying (and on-pitch) return was emphatically elite.

In a way, the normalisation of Salah's excellence is a testament to his consistency. However, that's not to say that it should be taken for granted.

The hair may be shorter but Salah's potent attacking threat is as prevalent as ever. And, having only turned 28 in June, there is plenty of time left to shrug ambivalently after he rattles in just the 20-odd goals each season.

Source: 90min