Sunday 20 October 2019

Salah back in business


Salah days are back: The Liverpool striker scores the third goal of his hat-trick against Bournemouth on Saturday to help Liverpool go top of the Premier League
Salah days are back: The Liverpool striker scores the third goal of his hat-trick against Bournemouth on Saturday to help Liverpool go top of the Premier League

Jim White

For much of the autumn, a consensus has been growing beyond the confines of Merseyside that suggests Mohamed Salah is not the same player this season as last.

For whatever reason - the Sergio Ramos-inflicted shoulder damage, post-World Cup fatigue, second-season syndrome - the fire that sparked him to his incredible 41-goal haul seemed, ever so slightly, to have dulled.

Sure, Liverpool - who enjoyed a 4-0 win over Bournemouth on Saturday and are now the only unbeaten side in the Premier League - did not appear to be constrained by his reversal, but he was not quite the threat he was.

How the theory took a battering at Bournemouth. Across a windy lunchtime on the Dorset coast, Salah was imperious. He scored a glorious hat-trick, the third goal of which, as full of cheek as it was pace and power, insisted everything was in full working order. If he had ever gone away, he was back, in the process making accomplished and experienced Premier League defenders such as Steve Cook resemble nervous under-eights.

Not that Jurgen Klopp, his manager, ever thought there was an issue.

"I was not one second worried," he said when asked if Salah's comparatively slow start had concerned him.

"I don't know what was written, but we have to develop always. And to improve again a 41-goal season, everybody would kind of struggle a little bit.

"How would you improve it? If you score in the first five games 10 goals, everybody would say 'it could happen again'.

"But if you score 39 it would be 'yeah, but it's not 41'. He has never had a season like that, and if he wants to have the season again he has to do it step by step, that's what we do and that's what he is doing.

"I don't know who (else) would have scored these goals today. That was outstanding. All credit to him."

If the goals were hugely characteristic, there was something different about Salah at Bournemouth.

A seemingly relaxed and carefree sort - the manner in which he gave his man of the match award to James Milner to mark his 500th Premier League appearance typical of his approach - Salah had looked oddly downbeat as he took Cook and company to task.

Perhaps angered by the defender's desperate lunge at his Achilles as he galloped away to score his second goal, perhaps irritated by talk of relative decline, he barely celebrated. The broad grin that lit up the game last season was absent.

"If he didn't celebrate then I can't say anything because I didn't see it," said Klopp diplomatically.

If the Liverpool manager was distracted, it was understandable. He had other things to attend to. As a performance, this was indicative of the strides made in the development of his squad. The team is now far from Salah and 10 others.

With the crucial Champions League tie with Napoli at Anfield tomorrow in mind, Klopp had once again shuffled his pack. And what his tinkering suggested was he now has far deeper resources to sustain a campaign on several fronts.

In midfield his summer signings Fabinho and Naby Keita looked cheerfully at home. Xherdan Shaqiri is developing into a fine recruit. He still has the evergreen Milner available to provide cover. Here, the veteran midfielder slotted in at right-back and was typically resolute.

Nevertheless, whoever is behind him it is Salah who will most concern Carlo Ancelotti, Napoli's manager. Not that Klopp was anxious to add to the idea that Salah is the only threat.

"We don't say 'oh no, look at Mo, he'll shoot you out of the stadium' or whatever. It's football and we really have to do a lot of things right to bring him into a situation where he can score. I have no idea who will line up on Tuesday. We have to make sure we have fresh legs, as fresh as possible, and go with all we have against Napoli."

Yet, whatever he might say to the contrary, as his broadening grin suggests, Klopp knows that Salah in this sort of form is his best chance of progress.

Daily Telegraph, London

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