After selling Fabinho and Jordan Henderson to clubs in Saudi Arabia for a combined £52m, Liverpool may have been tempted when Al-Ittihad bid £150m for Mohamed Salah in the summer. The club flatly rejected the offer and Jurgen Klopp said the striker was “essential to everything we do”. The manager even went so far as to claim that the answer to an offer from Saudi Arabia would be “no.” That was quite a claim given the amount of money spent this summer, but Salah’s excellent start to the season suggests his manager’s steadfast stance was the right one.
The sum was huge and Salah is 31 years old with two years left on his current contract, but Liverpool were right not to cash in on the Egyptian. First of all, the offer came too late for Liverpool to secure a replacement. More importantly, Salah has been brilliant this season, scoring or assisting a goal in each of Liverpool’s five league games so far.
Salah has scored two goals – in wins against Aston Villa and Bournemouth – and provided four assists, a feat no player in the league can do better. He ranks 10th in the division for key passes (12) and first for creating big chances (six). Despite the plethora of attacking players at Klopp’s disposal, Salah is unbeatable when fit. Darwin Núñez, Cody Gakpo, Diogo Jota and Luis Díaz are effectively fighting for the two remaining spots in Liverpool’s attack.
Salah has always been productive for Liverpool – he scored 32 goals in his debut season and won the first of his three Golden Boots in the Premier League – but his focus has shifted slightly this season. Again, his creativity is nothing new – he has scored double-figure assists in four of his six full Premier League seasons at Liverpool – but his role as a facilitator rather than a finisher has been particularly pronounced this season.
As age catches up with him and the number of attackers in the Liverpool squad grows, the striker increasingly looks for teammates instead of aiming for the goal himself. When Trent Alexander-Arnold moved into midfield at the end of last season, Salah often tried to move further out to create more space in the final third. With the markers dragged out of position, Salah was able to use his vision to break the defense apart. It’s no wonder that five of his 12 assists last season came in his last 10 league games after Alexander-Arnold burst forward.
While Alexander-Arnold may be a little more subtle this season, he is still given permission to move further up the pitch, meaning Salah is once again positioned further up than in previous seasons. Much was made of Alexander-Arnold’s move to midfield last season and how it helped the right-back maximize his creativity, but the move has also opened up new opportunities for Salah on the right.
The sample size is small, but as his role on the field has changed, so have his stats. So far this season, Salah has only made 6.8 touches of the ball per game in the opposition penalty area – his lowest figure in a Premier League season. He’s as destructive as ever, but he attacks his opponents in a different way. His average of 2.5 key passes per game this season is his highest in a Premier League season, while his average of 3.1 shots per game is his lowest. Salah still has an eye for goal when possible, but as he focuses on creating chances, he makes more passes and takes fewer shots.
The introduction of Dominik Szoboszlai also has an impact on Salah’s role. The Hungarian captain, who was signed from RB Leipzig for £60 million in the summer, operates between midfield and attack. He is exactly the type of player Liverpool have been missing in recent seasons. His presence poses an additional threat going forward and gives Salah another teammate to choose from.
Salah has been directly involved in half of Liverpool’s 12 goals this season, so he obviously remains the team’s key attacker, if not the most important player – “indispensable to everything we do,” as Klopp put it. The question can be asked whether Gakpo or Nuñez should lead the line or whether Jota or Díaz should start from the left, but there is no chance of Salah being dropped any time soon.
Liverpool’s decision to reject a £150m offer for a player in his 30s was a clear sign of Salah’s standing. His performances on the pitch justify this belief. If Liverpool want to challenge Manchester City for the title, they need to hold on to Salah.