It wasn’t just the number of goals – 22 in his first 23 appearances – that he scored for Liverpool. It was the sheer quality of them that took your breath away.
Nothing more than the lonely effort he conjured up against Manchester City at Anfield in October, halfway through a 10-game run when he scored, which will surely go down as the Premier League goal of the season. .
“Come on,” Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp asked aloud, “who’s better than him?”
Fast forward six months and Salah is, in relative terms, in a rut. Indeed, with a seismic second leg against City approaching on Sunday that could still determine the title’s destination, there is an argument that he might not even be Klopp’s striker of choice.
There are potentially a host of reasons why Salah is going through his worst scoring streak this season, with no goals in five games in all competitions and no goals in open play in six weeks.
Is he tired? He has already played 47 games this season, after all.
Are painful losses for Egypt on the way? First there was Liverpool team-mate Sadio Mane’s loss on penalties to Senegal in the Africa Cup of Nations final in February, then a loss – also via a shootout – to the same opponent in the World Cup qualifiers last month.
Does it have anything to do with his current contract with Liverpool? It would be unlikely.
It may simply be the vagaries of form and chance. Because he always accumulates the chances, but does not convert them.
Either way, it’s not the Salah of six months ago. He was substituted midway through the second half in each of Liverpool’s last two games after, by his high standards, quite disappointing performances.
“Sometimes he could decide in a better way, no doubt, passing the ball faster and all those things,” Klopp said this week. “But it’s a difficult time for Sadio (Mane) and Mo, with the African Cup and the return which is immediately available for us with all the matches.
“It’s quite normal in a season that you have these little (ups and downs).”
Will Klopp drop Salah against City on Sunday? It would be a brave man to do that to the Premier League’s top scorer. But it’s not that he doesn’t have options.
And in Diogo Jota, Klopp has a striker who has helped shoulder the burden for Liverpool first while Salah was out at the Africa Cup and then amid the Egyptian’s recent struggles.
Jota looks to be Liverpool’s first-choice centre-forward now, replacing Roberto Firmino doing all the dirty work like the Brazilian – tracking, pressing, harassing defenders – but scoring far more goals at the same time.
Jota has scored four goals in his last six games, including the winner against Nottingham Forest in the FA Cup quarter-finals and crucial openers against Arsenal and Watford in the league. He is tied for second in the league scoring chart with 14 goals.
Rested against Benfica in the Champions League in midweek, Jota is very likely to start against City. It’s who are the two players alongside him in the three-pronged forward line that is the big question.
And that’s where Liverpool hold the advantage over City, who will start the game at the Etihad Stadium one point ahead of Klopp’s side with eight games to play. Liverpool’s firepower is simply greater, with Klopp able to call on Salah, Jota, Firmino, Mane and January signing Luis Diaz, who has settled in seamlessly since joining Porto.
City have a host of classy attacking midfielders and forwards, but none have the edge of Salah – when fit – or Jota.
City manager Pep Guardiola knows a draw is enough to leave the fate of the title in his side’s hands. If that happens, City will win the league by winning their next seven games.
It’s up to Liverpool to go on the attack, which makes the game all the more appealing to the fans.
And Klopp, who played boldly in the front four of Mane, Salah, Jota and Firmino at the Etihad two seasons ago, knows he has the attacking players to overwhelm City.
Whether Salah plays or not.
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