If the latest reports are anything to go by, and often they aren’t, then Liverpool fans should be very excited at the prospect of Mohamed Salah joining the ranks at Anfield. Many followers of the Premier League will remember the Egyptian from his time at Chelsea, which was less than successful to say the least, but he’s come on leaps and bounds since then and has flourished since leaving for Italy. I’ve decided to take an in-depth look at his numbers while in Rome to see what exactly he could offer Jurgen Klopp and the red half of Merseyside.
First and foremost, the stand-out feature in Salah’s game is his threat in the final third. Positioned predominantly on the right wing, he boasts an impressive goalscoring record that’s not easy to find in a right sided player. In 2015/16 Salah scored 14 non penalty goals, at a rate of 0.46 goals per 90 minutes (league only). This is already an exceptional return, but in 2016/17 he went one better, netting 15 non penalty goals. Due to playing fewer minutes, a result of an injury and the African Cup of Nations, his rate of goals increased to 0.54 per 90, something most strikers would be proud of.
A key element of Salah’s exploits in front of goal is his sharp and dynamic movement. He often finds himself in the right place at the right time and has the ability to get high quality shots off from good locations. Although he significantly outperformed his expected goals in 2015/16, scoring 14 goals from 9.3 xG, in 2016/17 he scored 15 with an increased xG of 13.8. This shows that he now takes more shots from better locations and indicates that he is performing at a level that is more sustainable. Salah generally looks to cut inside onto his left foot and get shots off in the space between the left full back and the left centre back, as can be seen below in his shot location charts (Credit: James Yorke).
Not only does Salah contribute in goals, he is also adept at laying them on for his teammates. In 2015/16 he averaged 0.2 assists and 2.1 key passes per 90 minutes, while in 2016/17 he averaged 0.4 assists and 2.6 key passes. As shown in the radar below, Salah’s expected assists for 2016/17 were 0.38 per 90, indicating that he is in fact creating high quality chances as opposed to simply benefiting from better finishing. Like with his goalscoring numbers, these show an increase in production, and as he will have turned just 25 by the start of the new season there’s still plenty of room for more improvement.
For comparison, in 2016/17 Salah scored more often than Eden Hazard (0.48 P90) and made a key pass more often than Lionel Messi (2.5 P90), further demonstrating his production in the final third.
Salah is not really a technical dribbler in the ilk of David Silva or Lionel Messi, nor is he a creator from deep spraying passes through the eye of a needle. Instead he is more explosive and looks to attack space with and without the ball. On the ball he is a powerful dribbler, and although 1.25 successful dribbles per 90 might seem a bit low, this number doesn’t account for carries where he doesn’t have to beat a defender. While still comfortable in tighter spaces, one of Salah’s main strengths is in transition as he uses his pace to get behind the defender before driving towards goal with the ball at his feet. Off the ball Salah offers dynamic movement and powerful runs from deep to get into dangerous positions in the box.
This movement is something that Liverpool lacked any time Mane was missing last season. Often their possession would become stale as their attackers all looked to move towards the ball. Salah is a more direct option, is fantastic in transition and would look to stretch defences with runs in behind. Mane has often played on the left in his career at Salzburg and Southampton, so I feel the arrival of Salah could see him moved back there with Coutinho moving to a more central role. If the reported fee of €40m is to be believed then I think that Liverpool have found themselves a real bargain in today’s market. It will provide them with some much needed depth in attack, especially with a Champions League campaign just around the corner.
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Thanks for reading!