Monday 22 October 2018

Stephen Hunt: Mo Salah too good for frustrating run of form to continue much longer

'What is vitally important during what is undoubtedly a difficult period for Salah, is that he plays as freely as he can but continues to work for his team-mates and puts in the hard graft so they are happy and still love him.' Photo: John Walton/PA
'What is vitally important during what is undoubtedly a difficult period for Salah, is that he plays as freely as he can but continues to work for his team-mates and puts in the hard graft so they are happy and still love him.' Photo: John Walton/PA
Stephen Hunt

Stephen Hunt

Settle in. This is going to be another rollercoaster ride. Manchester City and Liverpool going at full pelt, with so many match-winners on show, so many capable of producing that moment of breathtaking brilliance - like Daniel Sturridge at Chelsea last week. And he'll be on the bench today.

Both sides will go for it and there will be a lot of goals. I can't see the managers and players approaching it in any other way. They will get space so it will come down to how that is exploited, and who masters defending as a team. The full-backs and holding midfielders are going to be crucial.

And there are two proven match-winners who could be the difference today, who have contrasting starts to the season - Mo Salah and Sergio Aguero.

This period is a big test of character for Salah. He needs to keep doing what he was doing last season and not try to do anything different. And this is not about matching the number of goals he scored last season or winning awards, but working for the team.

It would be easy for Salah to say, 'I'm free, here, on the right wing, or I might come in-field sometimes. If you are good enough, you will find me.' And if not, he's out of the game. What is vitally important during what is undoubtedly a difficult period for Salah, is that he plays as freely as he can but continues to work for his team-mates and puts in the hard graft so they are happy and still love him.

And Jurgen Klopp will love him for that work rate too. He expects it from every player and Salah knows that. He knows he was so successful last season because he bought into Klopp's methods and got his rewards. He knows if he doesn't roll his sleeves up now, and he isn't scoring, he won't be picked. If he continues to work hard, the goals will follow. And when that happens, he will feel better about himself for sticking at it and doing it the right way.

This was always going to be a difficult season for Salah. He set incredible standards last season with the amount of goals he scored, not to mention the number of quality ones. He has still scored in the last three home games but I said in our preview of the season that teams would make life more difficult for him now and he would have to deal with it. I still think he will end up playing in the central role for Liverpool.

Salah will get it right. He looks perplexed and last week Klopp said he could be trying too hard. The Liverpool manager will find a way to get Salah's mojo back. He is too good for this run to continue and once he has a few goals under his belt, the attention will go elsewhere.

It's not that long ago that Harry Kane's form and fitness were being questioned. Even before the season started, he was being reminded that he had never scored in August and even though he put that right, when he wasn't firing on all cylinders in the early Premier League and Champions League matches, the pundits were all over it. He's scored a few now so it's all forgotten.

Salah doesn't have to look much further than Sergio Aguero for inspiration. He has had to adapt his game to stay in Pep Guardiola's team. His scoring record was irrelevant unless he was prepared to work for the team.

City are unbeaten without their main man, Kevin De Bruyne, and just doing enough to win games but Aguero has been outstanding and his goals have made the difference. One of the City coaches told me Aguero was the sharpest he had ever seen him in pre-season and I think he will score goals in this game.

It is impossible to compare Aguero with other Premier League greats like Alan Shearer and Thierry Henry because they are all so different. Also, he is playing in a different era which is less reliant on crosses into the box which the centre-forward is expected to get on the end of.

You rarely see goals like that now. Most of the assists in open play are on the ground, so strikers have to be clever, as well as instinctive. And Aguero is certainly clever. He is the perfect fox-in-the-box, who comes alive when the ball is in the area, shifts like a ghost and produces photogenic finishes like few can.

Not bad for a player who looked like he was out of the door at Manchester City as the winter transfer window approached in Guardiola's first season. But he got his head down, worked hard on his fitness and did the groundwork when he played and defended from the front, winning and keeping possession for the team.

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