Saturday 21 October 2017

Comment: Salah's sorcery just perfect for Liverpool to mount title challenge

Mohamed Salah will be hoping to have the Kop chanting his name next season. Photo: Getty Images
Mohamed Salah will be hoping to have the Kop chanting his name next season. Photo: Getty Images

Jack Pitt-Brooke

Almost four years on from their first shot at signing him, Liverpool are close to finally securing Mohamed Salah.

It has been a long wait at Anfield and it is hard not to speculate how things might have turned out had they secured Salah back in the 2013-'14 season when Salah was a 21-year-old, in his second season playing for Murat Yakin's FC Basel.

Salah was brilliant for Basel and came to Premier League attention when he shredded Tottenham and Chelsea in the Europa League and then Chelsea again in the Champions League, scoring against them home and away in the autumn of 2013.

That put both Liverpool and Chelsea on alert. Brendan Rodgers wanted him to add extra edge to Liverpool's title push, but Jose Mourinho made a persuasive phone-call and he went to Stamford Bridge instead.

We will never know how Liverpool's famous failed title charge in the spring of 2014 would have turned out had they managed to sign Salah during that January transfer window.

He could have disrupted their balance and stopped them from that remarkable 11-game winning streak that took them so close. Or he could have given them the extra sharpness to get them over the line ahead of Manchester City.

As it was, Salah was unveiled at Chelsea in January 2014 for a fee of £11m. He joined the day after Juan Mata was sold to Manchester United for £37m, during the same window that Kevin De Bruyne was allowed to leave too.

Mourinho was trying to re-configure his team to make it more powerful and dynamic and saw in Salah the ability to get in behind down the left flank.

"We had to go for a young player, for a left-footed player and for a fast player," Mourinho explained.

"Salah is a kind of player that looks for the space and tries to get behind people so we think he was a good choice."

But it can be difficult to come into an elite environment, especially one overseen by a manager as demanding as Mourinho, and Salah barely made an impact at Chelsea.

During the second half of the 2013-'14 season he made only six starts as Mourinho realised he preferred Willian, Eden Hazard, Oscar and Ramires as his attacking midfield options.

That was a bedding-in period but even the first half of the next season, Mourinho quickly found his best team, after the arrivals of Cesc Fabregas and Diego Costa.

Salah was nowhere near it. He started just four games, none in the league, and in January 2015, one year after joining, was sent out to Fiorentina on loan.

Plenty of very good players have failed to make the grade for Mourinho - witness De Bruyne and Romelu Lukaku.

Salah has shown in the two-and-a-half seasons since leaving Chelsea that he did not fail there because he was a bad player; he was simply in the wrong place at the wrong time.

In his two seasons at Roma, the Egyptian has been simply one of the best attacking players in Serie A, turning himself into the ultimate modern wide player.

He has scored an impressive 33 goals in his two years in Rome, and added 17 assists, too. He is not an old-fashioned winger but gets into the box and plays clever passes.

Most importantly, Salah is still lightning quick and that is the quality that stands out for Liverpool.

By recruiting him for a club record fee that could rise beyond £35m, they are ensuring that they have more options to play in the fast, mobile, incisive way that Jurgen Klopp wants. He is the perfect fit for Klopp's football. (© Independent News Service)

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