Mohamed Salah’s early season form has been one of very few factors concerning Liverpool fans in the opening weeks of the 2018/19 campaign. With six games played, he has scored just twice and has looked sluggish in a number of games, particularly against Paris Saint-Germain in the Champions League.
That has sparked fears from fans about just how he may fare in his second season in the Premier League with the Reds and whether he may face the dreaded “second season syndrome” or defenders who have figured him out having been torn to pieces by the Egyptian in his debut season.
So just what is wrong with Mohamed Salah? It seems that there are numerous factors at play, but there is still plenty of time for the forward to come good and hit the heights that everyone came to expect of him in 2017/18.
After his Champions League final heart-break and more disappointment at the World Cup in Russia, there have been questions on just how fit Mohamed Salah was having been rushed back. Add that in to an intensive training regime to get him to Russia and it’s clear to see why he could be feeling worn out and lacking the same fresh legs as last season.
It’s clear in the way that Salah is playing that he is lacking the same energy, drive and pace that was so fundamental to his success last season. Perhaps the most notable way of telling that difference is in the number of progressive runs that he is making, as the number has dropped from 2.4 per match to just 1.69 as he continues to look increasingly jaded and laggy.
Jurgen Klopp appears to be acknowledging that too, given that Salah has only completed three of his six appearances in a red shirt to date this season. With the Champions League fixture having taken place this week, a change could be imminent to allow him to rest and recover.
It is telling in his defensive contribution too, with recoveries, interceptions and clearances all having fallen significantly this season, compared to last. That failure to track back and help out will not be going down well with his coach, so he may need to find fitness sooner rather than later.
Simply out of form
Last season, Mohamed Salah had an expected goals (xG) rate of 32.24 goals across 52 games, yet massively overperformed with a return of 44 goals. This time around, his xG stands at 3.9, compared to just two goals. Only a matter of months later, he has gone from exceeding his xG by 36% to underperforming by 49%. Such a swing in form is a major concern for Liverpool.
What is perhaps more concerning is that there is no such reason for that. Whereas last season he managed an average of 4.07 shots per game, this season he is more or less on the same track with 4.06, yet his shots on target ratio is significantly lower, having dropped from 49.9% to 37.4%.
Again, last season he averaged 5.99 touches in the box per match, whereas this season it is 6.09, and he has received an average of 18.61 passes per match, compared to an only slightly higher 19.27 last campaign. Whatever the issue may be with the Egyptian, it is not down to a lack of service.
Every player goes through spells of bad form at different times, Salah himself went through similar spells last season, though failure to score in his next outing, potentially against Southampton on Saturday, would make his current barren spell the longest he’s had since arriving on Merseyside.
His struggles are a myth
Sure, he’s not hitting the heights of 2017/18, but we are only midway through September with six games played in all competitions. Having faced the likes of Tottenham and Paris Saint-Germain in that time too, it is hardly a hugely concerning run of form. At this stage of last season, he had only managed one more goal than his current return.
It certainly seems like the complaint of a team which is joint top of the Premier League on points to be concerned that last season’s top scorer has only managed one goal every three games, with only six played. After a tough summer, it is to be expected that he may take a while to get fully up to speed, but he isn’t performing below expectations.
Given time, Salah will continue to score goals. Even if he doesn’t quite match his form of last season, Salah can still be a success at Anfield this year and build on his incredible success of the last campaign.