Saturday 18 November 2017

Mohamed Salah already the signing of the season, but one improvement could make Liverpool title challengers

Liverpool's Mohamed Salah
Liverpool's Mohamed Salah

One minute, Mohamed Salah can be an utterly thrilling player, the next an utterly frustrating one. The Egyptian has the ability to turn a match on its head in a moment or blow an opponent out of the water with his combination of frightening pace and incisive running. He also has the ability to miss when it seems far easier to score.

Liverpool supporters already love him nonetheless, voting Salah as the club's player of the month at every time of asking since August, but they know too well that he squanders chances.

Take the victory over Arsenal at Anfield earlier this season. In the opening stages, a few yards out and at a generous angle, Salah had a choice of how to open the scoring, with the visitors' goal gaping as the ball broke to him at the far post. He hit it straight at Petr Cech. In the second half though, with Liverpool already 2-0 ahead, he took the ball in his own half, already essentially one-on-one with Cech. Salah sprinted up towards the Kop, maintained his composure and coolly placed the ball past the Arsenal goalkeeper.

Then there's the breakthrough in last Wednesday's Champions League meeting with Maribor. Salah opened the scoring at the start of the second half with an intuitive finish, guiding the ball past goalkeeper Jasmin Handanovic with the outside of his left leg after 49 long minutes of deadlock. Shortly after, he should have doubled Liverpool's lead when he connected with an Alberto Moreno cross but, from point-blank range, he headed over.

Perhaps the best example of all comes with how, after converting a crucial stoppage-time penalty to send Egypt to their first World Cup in 28 years, Jürgen Klopp made Salah his first-choice spot-kick taker. Salah had shown he can cope with "unbelievable"pressure, the Liverpool manager said, but a fortnight later, his attempt to put Liverpool ahead at home to a stubborn Huddersfield Town was easily saved.

Those misses should not tarnish the all-round excellent start to life at Anfield that Salah has made. Jamie Carragher, not afraid to say what he thinks of Liverpool players, named him as the signing of the season last week before his brilliant display at the London Stadium and many, including several names from these pages, predicted the same of Salah at the start of the campaign. To have brought in a player of his talent and output for £36.9m in an inflated market was exceptional business.

Composure, then, seems like the only aspect of Salah's game in desperate need of attention and Liverpool should only look back a few years to find an example of a striker who blossomed after recognising that he was missing too many simple chances.

It is often forgotten that Luis Suarez was also regarded as something of a wasteful finisher during his first two years at Anfield. In fairness to the Uruguayan, he was part of a team under Kenny Dalglish and in the early days of Brendan Rodgers' reign that seemed to take perverse pleasure in shooting off target. Suarez was far from the worst culprit but even so, he knew he could improve.

"I am the problem,"he admitted in the summer of 2012, having converted just 8 per cent of his shots into goals the previous season. "It is all down to me. I need to take my time more when I do have chances. Sometimes I am rushing at chances too much and I know the problem is mine. It is up to me to sort it out and to start scoring goals."Suarez improved that conversion figure to 12 per cent the following year, then upped it again to 17 per cent in his final year at Anfield.

For what it's worth, Salah has converted 19 per cent of shots this year, more than Suarez ever managed at Liverpool, yet given the number of chances missed, there is clearly room for improvement. He remains some way off producing the kind of outstanding individual season that Suarez did four years ago to take Liverpool to the brink of a league title, but for once, the troublesome Uruguayan might have set a good example.

Players can build their composure in front of goal, they can improve their finishing. If Salah does this year, next or at any point down the line, it may be enough to make Liverpool genuine challengers once again.

Independent News Service

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