Mohamed Salah has established himself amongst the elite over the years. He’s become an indispensable part of Jurgen Klopp’s machine at Anfield, scoring for the club on a regular basis for the side. But what not many realise is how the Egyptian’s role has changed over the years.
Salah rose to the global stage in the 2017-18 season. It was a campaign in which he broke multiple records, scoring 32 goals in the Premier League and racking up ten assists. That season saw him enter the Ballon D’or nomination. In the end, it only became an award that he only came close to winning.
That was the very first season in which the sprouts of growth were seen under Klopp. That season, he had massively overperformed on his XG- 6.86. In his first season back in the Premier League, he was handed almost a Lionel Messi-esque role on the pitch. With Roberto Firmino dropping deeper, Salah had acres of space to move forward.
A lot of his goals were picture-perfect. He would cut inside and score Messi-like goals, particularly those strikers against Tottenham and Everton. That season, he had completed 2.2 dribbles per game, coming up with 1.7 key passes per game. He was constantly involved in play and had the burden of creating goals too.
His XG map is a reflection of how he was constantly putting away chances worth less than 0.50 XG. Only four of his goals that season had an XG of over 0.50– a sign of how he came on as a very ferocious finisher. He was someone who could smell goals ruthlessly. Taking 4.36 shots per 90 minutes was a reason for that too.
Last season though, Salah took only 3.77 shots per 90 minutes. His goals tally came down to a more believable 22, as he overperformed on his XG by 0.21. That too is another believable overperformance as compared to the 6.86 from the previous season.
But the reduction in that came because of the positions he took. Putting away as many unlikely goals as the 2017-18 season is something possibly no one can do. Klopp saw that in Salah and the Egyptian was playing closer to goal- getting at the end of passes more often.
Which is why 2018-19 saw Salah score seven goals from an XG of over 0.50. The number of goals from an unlikely angle came down- like it was probably meant to. But Klopp made perfect use of a very potent goalscorer by altering his system in that fashion.
That has been very much evident this season. With the Reds running away with the Premier League title, Salah has got 14 goals and six assists. He has taken 4.02 shots per 90 minutes- slightly less than the 2017-18 tally. But the number of low XG goals he has scored is very less.
Only two goals from him have had an XG of less than 0.20. It was six last season and eight in the 2017-18 season. He still takes shots from far out, constantly trying curling efforts. But they don’t come off as much as they used to. And they aren’t meant to either and Klopp has been keeping track of that.
Because of that, he’s dribbling less than he used to. That dribbles per game number this season stands at 1.5- lesser than the last two seasons. It is proof of the fact that he’s not been as prolific a dribbler and that’s aimed playing him closer to goal and scoring from close by.
It has been a process over the last three years. Salah may not be scoring much but comparing him and judging from one unreal season isn’t a realistic idea. He was not going to keep that up in the long-term. Just when Klopp saw where his strengths lie, he made sure that the team tapped into those strengths. And he deserves credit for it.