When you think of Mohamed Salah, you think goalscorer. Since his arrival from Roma in 2017, the Egyptian has spent most of his time hitting the back of the net for Liverpool.
He has become one of the most prolific goalscorers in world football and it is why the Saudi Pro League are so keen to make him their next marquee addition. The Athletic reported last week that Al Ittihad have reignited their interest in the 31-year-old and while Klopp said on Friday that Salah was “100 per cent” committed to Liverpool, who have no interest in selling him, the questions over his future are unlikely to end until the window closes.
Salah has seemed unaffected, but his early season performances have highlighted not only how indispensable he is, but that Liverpool would need to replace more than just his goals should an offer arrive that was too good to turn down.
Goalscorers can have more strings to their bow. In Salah’s case, it has not always been acknowledged. Graeme Souness described him as “greedy” and “the most selfish player I’ve ever seen” and his approach to goalscoring has been described similarly by other pundits and supporters, though Klopp has always defended him.
Yet on Sunday, when his team needed someone to play the perfect pass with the correct weight and accuracy, not for the first time, it was Salah who provided it.
His vision, his quality and his precision allowed him to execute an inch-perfect ball into the path of Darwin Nunez in the dying minutes against Newcastle.
After spotting the run…
… his pass was perfectly in stride for the striker…
… who hammered it past Nick Pope to secure one of the most memorable victories in Jurgen Klopp’s reign, with Liverpool one goal and one man down after half an hour.
It was his second assist of the season and both have been exquisite.
Against Chelsea, after receiving a pass from Alexis Mac Allister, Salah was isolated against Levi Colwill. He drove forward and spotted the galloping Luis Diaz.
Twisting and turning, he waited for the right moment. The gap between Colwill and Thiago Silva opened up and Salah executed another perfectly weighted pass…
… that put the ball on a plate for Diaz to prod home.
Salah’s assist against Newcastle was his 76th in all competitions for the club. It is the sixth most of all Liverpool players who have debuted since the start of 1969-70. Only Kenny Dalglish (176), Steven Gerrard (145), John Barnes (101), Steve McManaman (85) and Ian Rush (83) have more.
It has taken him to second outright in Premier League assists for the club (60), surpassing McManaman’s total of 58. Only Steven Gerrard has more, with 92.
It may feel like a new thing for Salah, an adaptation to his game as he enters the later years of his career, but in only one of his six seasons at the club, he has finished with less than double figures.
Last season, the 31-year-old’s total of 16 assists, including 12 in the league, was his highest and he contributed 30 goals in a team that struggled for most of the season.
Only Kevin De Bruyne has set up more goals than Salah since the start of 2017-18.
Strikers must have a selfish streak — without one they would not hit the numbers they consistently do. Salah made no attempt to hide his frustration at being substituted with 13 minutes remaining against Chelsea. He drew cheers from the home fans as he ripped the tape around his wrist and was not acknowledged by Jurgen Klopp as he took his seat on the bench.
The manager had no problem with his player’s reaction. Salah is a winner and likes breaking records. His substitution, much like the Chelsea bar in the first half, ended his hopes of breaking the record for goals scored on the opening day of the Premier League season. He remains on eight, tied with Alan Shearer, Wayne Rooney and Frank Lampard.
Sometimes Salah chooses to shoot when his team-mates are better positioned. Sadio Mane’s furious reaction against Burnley in August 2019 following his substitution is one of the more famous examples. Mane and Salah, however, had an excellent relationship on the pitch and the Senegal forward benefited the most from the creativity in all competitions during his time at Anfield.
Only 10 of the assists for Mane came in the Premier League. The other part of the deadly trio, Roberto Firmino (12), was assisted the most by Salah in the league.
Salah is the only constant in the revamped forward line that has seen the arrivals of Luis Diaz, Darwin Nunez and Cody Gakpo in the past 18 months and relationships are still developing. Diaz missed most of last season due to injuries, while Gakpo only joined in January and Nunez’s Premier League adjustment has had some bumps in the road.
Diogo Jota arrived in the summer of 2020 and sits joint third on Salah’s assist list with four goals, alongside Trent Alexander-Arnold and Naby Keita.
Goalscoring is Salah’s bread and butter, but during pre-season, his ability to set up his fellow forwards shone more than the two goals he netted.
There were seven in total, supplying Diogo Jota, Diaz twice, Nunez three times and youngster Bobby Clark.
Salah’s relationship with Nunez continued to develop during pre-season and built on the promising moments from last season. In 2022-23, it was the Uruguayan who assisted Salah four times, compared to one the other way around.
Salah clocked up three assists for Nunez in pre-season, two of which came against Greuther Furth.
The first came at the end of a sweeping team move that demonstrated the pair being on the same wavelength. Salah was released by Harvey Elliott.
Nunez and Salah predicted each other’s thoughts. As the Uruguay striker darted in behind, his partner delayed and weighted his pass perfectly…
… and Nunez rounded the goalkeeper to score.
It was not too dissimilar to the process for Nunez’s second against Newcastle.
The second was easier as Nunez was left alone in space and Salah had a huge area to place his lobbed pass…
… which Nunez finished.
At times last season, they were accused of looking to pass to each other even when shooting was the better option.
Liverpool’s first goal of pre-season came in slightly comical fashion, when, after Salah had nudged a loose ball into the path of Nunez, the forward opted to try to find Salah with a pass instead of shooting.
Salah, taken by surprise and with the pass behind him, remained calm and steered the ball back to Nunez.
This time he did shoot.
Noticeable from his two assists against Greuther Furth and the running theme of Salah’s assists throughout pre-season, was Liverpool getting the ball to him in space or against an isolated defender. Chelsea saw the latter situation created and Newcastle the former.
Against Bayern Munich, Liverpool switched play to Salah in acres of space. That allowed him to drive at the full-back and get his team much closer to goal.
He spotted Diaz’s run and timed his pass perfectly…
… so Diaz could skip past a defender and shoot.
His two assists against Leicester City were the same. Jota released Salah on the right…
… he drove into the box, scrambling the defence, and kept calm to lay it off to Clark.
For his second, Jota played a similar pass, with Salah wider.
Salah was not closed quickly enough, so waited for Jota to dart into the box…
… and found him with a curling cross.
He can create opportunities from his off-the-ball work, too. Against Darmstadt, he pressed aggressively to take the ball off Christoph Zimmermann inside his own box.
He was left with the simple task of squaring the ball to Jota…
… who fired it into the net.
Liverpool have plenty of attacking riches alongside Salah and that has been on display in the early stages of the campaign.
If Salah can continue to score goals and provide assists with regularity, then any defensive deficiencies that linger behind him may not prove as costly.
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Andrew Jones is a Staff Writer for The Athletic covering Burnley FC and Liverpool FC. Having graduated from the University of Central Lancashire with a First Class Honours Degree in Sports Journalism, Andrew has had written work published for the Liverpool Echo, Chelsea FC and Preston North End. Follow Andy on Twitter @adjones_journo