There were few positives for Liverpool to take from the past week. Philippe Coutinho’s transfer request and a disappointing draw against Watford are far from the start that Reds fans will have been hoping for. Mohamed Salah finally provided a positive on Saturday afternoon.
The first half of the tie was a poor one all round for Jurgen Klopp’s side, Salah included. Gone was the fluidity and drive that Salah had shown in pre-season. His free flowing movement interlinking with Sadio Mane and Roberto Firmino was replaced by a player seemingly affected by nerves.
The Egyptian stuck to the right hand side on the wing, refusing to mix with the front three. When on the ball, he looked panicked and rushed. One opportunity did come his way when his pressing style worked perfectly to win the ball on the edge of the box, but his finish was high and wide, posing no danger to the Hornets.
In the second half, Salah emerged a different player entirely. The drive, pace and fluidity returned. Only minutes in, his darting run sliced open the Watford defence and forced Heurelho Gomes to take him down inside the penalty area to win a penalty, which Roberto Firmino duly converted.
Minutes later, his work rate earned him his first Liverpool goal. Whilst Sadio Mane tired and found himself behind play on the left, Firmino broke through and lobbed Gomes. His shot was heading wide until Salah raced in at the far post and got enough on the ball to send it into the back of the net and give his side the lead.
There is still room for improvement for the forward. He may have boasted the best pass accuracy ratio at 77.8%, but he needs to find himself more involved. Whilst Mane and Firmino both drifted around and got themselves involved when play was deeper, Salah didn’t budge. Whilst his partners up-front managed 29 and 30 passes respectively, Salah made just 18.
The other key area for Salah to work on if he is to be a success was his finishing. Of five shots, only his goal found the target. Salah frequently had opportunities to put the game to bed, finding space in the box, but he must start challenging the goalkeeper if he is to be a devastating threat.
It was a promising debut from the former Chelsea man, but it is clear that there is more to come from him. If Philippe Coutinho does leave the club, then he may see the pressure to produce take a step up.