Original article published 8 September 2022
There wasn’t a Liverpool fan in the land not delighted at the news that Mohamed Salah had renewed his contract in the summer.
After initially saying he’d not only run his contract down and leave at the end of the season, but that he also wanted to remain in the Premier League, those at Anfield breathed a huge sigh of relief when the Egyptian King (with a little encouragement from Kop hero Ian Rush) put pen to paper on a bumper three-year deal.
The man whose worst season for Liverpool saw him score 19 goals (and register 10 assists), was as short as 4/9 to score 20 or more in the league this season. That’s only drifted to 1/2, with bet365’s traders keeping faith with the Liverpool man.
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But his slow start to the season has left fans concerned.
While every touch Erling Haaland has seemingly results in a goal, Salah isn’t having the same success.
If someone told you that Liverpool had beaten Bournemouth 9-0, and that Salah had played the full 90 minutes, you’d fairly assume he’d bagged a hat-trick at least. The fact he neither scored nor laid on an assist seemed impossible.
But the game summed up Salah’s season so far. He’s now gone three starts without finding the net – a run he didn’t experience in the entirety of last season, even throughout his post-AFCON drop-off.
So he must be due a goal, right?
Well, yes and no.
His xG of 2.5 is slightly higher than his actual tally of two, and Salah is a player who’s routinely outperformed his xG, so yes, it’s likely we’ll see him start finding the net over the next couple of games.
On the flip side, prior to this season, Salah was averaging 0.64 xG/90, whereas through six games of this campaign, he’s only managing 0.42, fewer than Brighton’s Alexis Mac Allister and Crystal Palace’s Wilfried Zaha.
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Part of this can be explained by what seems to be a new role for Salah.
While we’re used to seeing Salah operate in the half-spaces, rather than as a touchline-hugging winger, Jurgen Klopp has deployed the Egyptian wider so far this season.
In the 0-0 draw with Everton, Salah had just two touches in the centre of the penalty area, with the vast majority of his touches coming from the wing.
It wasn’t just in the draw with Everton where Salah cut a more peripheral figure. For five seasons with Liverpool, Salah’s averaged around 15 touches per 90 in the middle third of the pitch, which is down to under 10 this season.
Again, this may be a conscious move from Klopp, as Salah has been much more involved in chance creation. His key passes per 90 have typically been around 1.6-2.0, whereas this season he’s at 3.67. For context, last season’s leader Kevin De Bruyne was 3.59.
The chance creation may have come at the expense of the goalscoring that won Salah his contract in the first place; his shots and shots on target per 90 have dipped to around half their usual level, so while his goalscoring will likely catch up with his xG before long, the signs aren’t really there that the 30-year-old is about to go on a run.
Haaland’s ridiculous start to life in Manchester may see him out of sight for the Golden Boot before long, and Salah will need a significant improvement in the coming weeks to catch up.