Mohamed Salah must prove doubters wrong in Merseyside Derby
In the aftermath of Liverpool’s 0-0 draw with Manchester United last week, Mohamed Salah was the talk of plenty of discussion after failing to score in yet another big game for the Reds.
The Egyptian now has drawn blanks against United, Chelsea, Manchester City, Tottenham, Paris Saint-Germain and Bayern Munich this season, leading to plenty of criticism and scepticism over his impact in big games.
Other than one early run, Luke Shaw was well on top of Liverpool’s no.11 last weekend, sticking tight to him and not letting him turn easily and drive forward. When Salah did get beyond Shaw, his end product was ultimately missing.
Sadio Mane has been Liverpool’s main man in recent weeks, scoring six goals in his last six appearances and netted twice in the Reds’ 5-0 win over Watford in midweek, with Divock Origi and Virgil van Dijk also getting on the scoresheet.
Salah struck the post in the game, now leaving him two games without a goal in the Premier League. He has never gone three Premier League games without a goal for Liverpool, something which doesn’t bode particularly well for Everton.
Is this something new?
Playing against United hasn’t brought much joy to Salah in a Liverpool shirt on a personal level, with the forward now going four games without a goal against their biggest rivals. Last season, Ashley Young was able to keep him quiet in the 2-0 defeat at Old Trafford, while he is also yet to net against them at Anfield.
But is Salah like this against all of Liverpool’s rivals? Salah has already scored against Arsenal at Anfield this season, netting a penalty on the stroke of half-time to make it 4-1 in their rout over Unai Emery’s team.
However, that is the only time that he has scored against the top-six in the Premier League this season, with the other top side he has netted against being Napoli in the Champions League. Salah stepped up when needed on that night, scoring the only goal in their 1-0 victory to ensure his team made it to the knockout stages in Europe.
That aside, Salah - who has netted 20 goals in all competitions and looks set to surpass 30 for the second straight campaign - has been well marshalled by the other top sides in the Premier League.
He twice failed to score against Liverpool’s biggest rivals Man City, that after scoring in three of their four meetings in the Premier League and Champions League last season.
That’s what makes this apparent drought so surprising, due to the fact that last term Salah was always the man that made the decisive difference in such fixtures. The 26-year-old scored against Tottenham home and away last season, including an incredible solo effort at Anfield.
Salah also scored home and away against Arsenal, netted during their home fixture against former team Chelsea and controversially won the Puskas award for his goal against Everton in the Merseyside derby, despite arguably scoring better goals himself that year.
Let's also not forget his match-winning performance at home to Roma in the Champions League semi-finals last season, as well as the fact he scored first for Liverpool in both games against Man City in the quarter-finals.
Liverpool looked competitive against Real Madrid in the final before Salah’s injury. His performances on the big stage last season alone should dispel the notion that he isn’t a big-game player as a myth.
Why is he struggling?
This has been a strange season for Liverpool in many ways, with the team sitting top of the Premier League table heading into the final 10 games of the season despite some feelings that they have often been playing below the levels they are capable of.
The difference with Liverpool this season is that they are playing winning football over swashbuckling football. The Reds have tightened the ship at the back with the additions of Virgil van Dijk and Alisson since the start of 2018, conceding just 15 goals in the Premier League and have kept 16 clean sheets in that time.
Heading into last season, Salah did not command the level of attention he did heading into this. A £38m signing from Roma, few expected him to have such a tremendous impact in the team, going on to score 44 goals in all competitions.
Philippe Coutinho, Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mane were Liverpool’s original ‘fab three’ and Salah was not anticipated by most to become the star that he has since developed into. His tremendous performances last season have made him a marked man this term, with Salah’s first touch nearly always resulting in two defenders standing tight to him.
Last season he was riding the crest of a wave that saw his confidence levels rise to a point where he was untouchable, but the shoulder injury suffered in the Champions League final brought that to a halt. Salah rushed back to feature for Egypt at the World Cup and it appeared to take some time for him to get back to 100% at the start of the season.
Those factors combined should make it no surprise that teams have managed to find a better way of coping with his threat this season, though he has still been able to reach 20 goals before March. Not bad for a slump.
There will be a microscope on Salah this weekend as he looks to avoid going three games without a Premier League goal for the first time in his career at Goodison Park. There have been plenty of doubters, but Salah has the opportunity to silence them all with a big performance in this crucial Merseyside Derby.