Mo Salah, running down the wing?
I am convinced Liverpool have unearthed a star in Mohammed Salah. It is probably true to say that even the most upbeat of fans didn’t expect the return and level of performance we’ve seen from the Egyptian so far this season. It is not an exaggeration to claim that we could be witnessing the birth of another superstar.
But what exactly does Jurgen Klopp have LFC’s number 11 doing to produce such improvements and results still only months into his Anfield career? Well, contrary to the song sung on the terraces, Salah actually isn’t “running down the wing”, and in truth hasn’t been for some time.
As Salah continues to develop, so does his place and role in the team. In pre-season and early season games, we could clearly see that the speedster held a more traditional wider starting place within a front three. However, what Klopp identified quickly (and likely the scouting team before the club bought the player), is that Salah is very adept at cutting in with runs between the lines to break the defense.
Klopp is an expert at honing in on certain qualities a player has and implementing a strategy to get the most out of it. In the case of Salah, we can see that the continued success in central areas has led to the Egyptian being handed a different role in the team, somewhat quietly and almost unnoticed at first.
From the above graphic highlighting Salah’s starting position against Southampton, we can see that he definitely isn’t playing as a traditional wide player in a front three. He is closer to a forward partner with Roberto Firminho, and this no doubt plays a pivotal role in the two players blossoming partnership. This was no more clear than in Sunday’s victory that saw the pair combine beautifully for both of Liverpool’s goals.
So what does Salah’s new role mean for the team, and does it have wider implications? Well, aside from the obvious – the pair combining for 49 goals and 19 assists this season (Salah – 29 Goals, 8 Assists, Firmino – 20 Goals, 11 Assists), there are other aspects to consider.
Firstly, Salah is no longer being asked to track back as he was earlier in the season. Naturally, this places more pressure on the right back spot for Liverpool, as they are dealing with the entire flank. Again
this was easily clear in the Southampton game (in particular the first half), where Ryan Bertrand managed to overload his side and produced a few dangerous crosses. Whether or not this could be costly against the bigger teams or in the Champions League remains to be seen, but one thing we know is, this Liverpool team would not be scared to walk the risk/reward tightrope.
The lesser mentioned impact that Salah’s emergence has caused is a slight shift in role for Sadio Mane. Sure, the former Saints forward is in a bit of a rut at the moment; but is this a direct by-product of the new dynamic duo?
Mane invariably plays wide left of the front three and is very much required to not only press, but track back as well. Ideally, if you asked Mane what role he would like to play, he’d likely opt for a similar approach to Salah – inverted and with a license to drift and not stick to defensive responsibilities. The reality however, is that somebody needs to take one for them team and it’s not going to be the couple contributing to around 3 goals every 2 games in recent weeks. Sure, Mane should still be weighing in with more on the attacking side, but we can at least be thankful of the shifts he is putting in whilst attempting to return to some form.
To summarise, Salah’s changing role and more central position are undoubtedly the cause of his goal glut. He is practically playing as a forward these days. Nobody is suggesting we change the song from “running down the wing” to “running between lines”, but it certainly would be somewhat more apt to describe the Egyptian King’s current role within the team.