Tuesday 21 August 2018

Jamie Carragher: Magnificent Salah the only man coming close to De Bruyne

Liverpool's Mohamed Salah. Photo: Getty Images
Liverpool's Mohamed Salah. Photo: Getty Images

Jamie Carragher

Some time this month members of the Professional Footballers' Association will receive voting papers for Player of the Year. The frontrunner is Manchester City's Kevin De Bruyne, but sprinting close behind - as he has done all season - is Liverpool's Mohamed Salah.

If you had asked me a few months ago who deserved this year's accolade, I would have said it must be De Bruyne, especially given the gap between the champions-elect and the rest. It will be no surprise if City's dominance ensures their best player is rewarded.

But with respect to the Belgian, the more I assess Salah's contribution, the more I feel he deserves to push De Bruyne far closer than I imagined. He has the potential to go ahead in the next few weeks, particularly if he produces a match-winning performance at Old Trafford next weekend.

Not so long ago I suggested no Liverpool signing has ever made a better start to their Premier League career than Salah. Now I will go further. No signing at any English club has made a better start to their Premier League career than Salah.

There are those who have had greater overall influence on a team - turning them into trophy winners - but in terms of individual numbers Salah's are staggering for a new recruit.

Salah is only the sixth player to score 30 goals in all competitions, inclusive of the Premier League, in their first season at their club. However, he has achieved this by the end of February. Look deeper at these figures and his contribution is unprecedented.

With regards to league goals, Salah has the highest goals-per-minute ratio (he scores every 92 minutes), and the highest goals/assists goals per minutes (he either scores or creates a goal every 68 minutes) of any new signing in Premier League history.

He is not just top of this list - he is well ahead with 22 goals and nine assists. There are ten games remaining so this will improve before May. To put it into perspective, he scores more regularly than Diego Costa, Fernando Torres, Alan Shearer, Sergio Aguero, Ruud van Nistelrooy and Robin van Persie during their debut campaigns at Chelsea, Newcastle, Manchester City and Manchester United.

These are among the greatest goalscorers of all time, yet Salah is currently more lethal. This makes the argument for making him Player of the Year more compelling.

Nobody anticipated the Egyptian would be in such exalted company when he came from Roma described as a winger, especially after his earlier spell at Chelsea was limited to six league games. But when I saw him play at Watford on the opening day of the season, I felt I was watching a player who could get 20 goals. It was not his finishing that caught the eye but the quality of his runs which were so penetrating he could have had a hat-trick that first day.

It was clear then Salah is not a winger at all. He is a goalscorer.

This is becoming the era of the 'wide striker' in the 4-3-3 many top coaches favour. We often think of traditional goal poachers as the number nine, loitering around the box waiting to be fed by the number ten and wingers who get chalk on their boots.

Now, the wide man must do more. Running towards the corner flag, trying to beat a full-back to whip in a cross is only one facet of their game. There is a demand to get into the penalty area and regularly score.

Cristiano Ronaldo is the prime example of how the role has changed. When he joined Manchester United, he liked hugging the touchline, doing his step-overs and terrorising right-backs. Now he is completely different player - a goalscorer more than a provider. He does not want to be indulging in his party tricks out wide because he cannot shoot from there, so his game is all about being in the penalty area to swell those extraordinary numbers.

deeper That is why although there has been some comparisons made between Salah's style and that of Lionel Messi - obviously he is not at the level of either Messi or Ronaldo yet - the Liverpool forward has more of Ronaldo's approach about him. Messi likes to come deeper for the ball and involve himself in the build-up.

That is not Salah's way. He has the mindset of a prolific striker, as demonstrated by how disappointed he is whenever he is substituted late in a match as he craves more goals. It is refreshing to see. Salah creates plenty of goals, but he is not a playmaker like Christian Eriksen or dribbler like Eden Hazard. Although he will have his moments, as we saw with the wonder goal against Tottenham Hotspur, this is not typical of his approach.

Salah does not beat players with the ball. He destroys them without it. He does not get involved or seek possession much in the middle of the field. His game is built entirely around getting into the penalty box quickly. He has the fewest touches per shot of anyone in the Premier League, and the highest percentage of touches in the area. He has fewer touches per 90 minutes than any of the top players.

This makes him hard to stop. There is no point trying to double-up on him as you would traditional wingers - asking a wide midfielder to drop deep to help a full-back - as he spends most of his time occupying the centre-backs. You can't assign the role of tracking his runs to one man given the varied positions he is taking up.

Sitting deep has not been successful against him, either. It is dangerous to invite him to advance because that is precisely where he wants to be. He has scored all types of goals - spectacular shots into the top corner, drilled strikes from the edge of the box, tap-ins and headers.

Injury permitting, we can state with authority this will not be a one-season wonder. I would not go so far to predict 30-goal campaign every year, but he will always be pushing the 20-mark because he has the traits of a poacher.

Salah is unlikely to have another year like this, a season in which he has elevated himself to global status - not just with his club performances - but with the penalty that took Egypt to the World Cup, the pressure of 96 million compatriots on his shoulders.

He is ticking all the boxes which is why, despite De Bruyne's excellence, I believe his peers will be thinking carefully about ticking the one next to Salah's name on their PFA ballot.

© Daily Telegraph, London

Telegraph.co.uk

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