As Mohamed Salah scores his 100th Premier League goal, Graham Ruthven questions whether he is on course to become the greatest player in the Premier League era.
Only four players have reached the milestone of 100 Premier League goals in fewer games than Mohamed Salah, who brought up a century in Liverpool’s 3-0 win over Leeds United on Sunday.
All four of those players – Alan Shearer (124), Harry Kane (141), Sergio Aguero (147) and Thierry Henry (160) – were centre forwards. Salah, of course, is not.
It could be argued that the game has changed to such an extent that wide forwards like Salah are now expected to score more goals than was the case when the likes of Henry and Shearer were still around, but nonetheless, the Egyptian has set a new standard for players in his position.
At the pace of the last four seasons, it won’t be long until Salah is considered the greatest ever player of the Premier League era. Others have Salah beat for longevity, but the Egyptian has made a profound impact on the English game in a relatively short period of time.
There is nobody more ruthless at finding the back of the net than Salah in the Premier League right now – see how Sadio Mane converted just two of his 10 total efforts into shots on target against Leeds while Salah managed two shots on target out of three in total. Salah also registered four key passes.
While the Egyptian’s single-mindedness in front of goal has caused flash points, most notably with Mane, it’s this focus that has made him such a devastating attacking threat. With Firmino not exactly an orthodox centre forward, Liverpool need Salah to provide cutting edge.
Salah is the complete forward. He is excellent with the ball at his feet, boasts a low centre of gravity that means he can turn quickly and also has the physicality to handle himself against the most agricultural of opposition defences. Salah is also deceptively fast, a quality that allows him to get in behind. Exceptional positional awareness helps in this regard.
Of course, Salah is harnessed by Liverpool’s system. With Roberto Firmino favoured in the centre forward role by Jurgen Klopp, space is created in behind for Salah to exploit. His starting point might be out on the right side, but the 29-year-old is expected to take up goalscoring positions.
Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo showed what was possible for wide forwards with an eye for goal, and Salah has clearly been inspired by the game’s two dominant forces for the last decade-and-a-half. The way the Egyptian has sharpened his game after emerging as a tricky winger early in his career is Ronaldo-like.
On reflection, Salah might well be disappointed to have scored just once in the comprehensive win over Leeds United at Elland Road. The home team’s high line was bold at best, reckless at worst, against a team with the pace and potency of Liverpool in the final third. Trent Alexander-Arnold and Salah tore Luke Ayling to shreds down the right.
Leeds have been praised for their attack-minded approach since their return to the Premier League, but their commitment to Marcelo Bielsa’s philosophy gives them a ceiling against teams like Liverpool and Manchester United, both of whom have inflicted damaging defeats on the Whites this season.
Liverpool will have it tougher against AC Milan in the Champions League on Wednesday night. Crystal Palace, who Liverpool face next weekend, might even prove to be trickier opponents for Klopp and his players than Leeds, whose system and approach played into the hands of the Anfield side.
However, even if Leeds had set up to frustrate Liverpool, there’s a good chance Salah still would have found a way through. The Egyptian is both a product of Klopp’s system and also the one wildcard given the license to break free from the tactical shackles that binds others around him.
Take Salah out of Klopp’s system, and the whole thing might fall down. This explains why such stress is being felt at Anfield over the 29-year-old’s current contract situation. Salah has two years left on his Liverpool deal, but discussions over an extension have stalled, leading to suggestions he could depart.
Even if Salah were to leave, though, he would do so having as big an impact on Liverpool as Eric Cantona had on Manchester United or Henry had on Arsenal. The 100 Premier League goals he has scored (98 as a Liverpool player) only scratches the surface of his achievements and there is still scope for him to achieve so much more.