If you had said to people within the football world when Mohamed Salah was sold by Chelsea that he would turn his career around and become one of the best players in world football, many would have seen it as a joke. Since Salah arrived at Liverpool he has made a drastic transition into a player that is unrecognisable to the one we saw at Chelsea. His first season at Liverpool saw him score 44 goals, which is phenomenal considering his time before in the premier league. The 2018/2019 season saw him score 27 which is still incredible, and it drove Liverpool on to win the Champions League. His goal scoring is sensational, and we have seen him score big goals in big games against the likes of Manchester United, Manchester City and Tottenham Hotspur. When we speak about Mohamed Salah, we are speaking about one of the best players in the world.
Of course, it is also the case that the tactical setup put in place by Jürgen Klopp has allowed him to flourish. Salah plays off the right in Liverpool’s 4-3-3 and he has formed one of the deadliest frontlines in Europe with Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mané. This, coupled with Liverpool’s defensive stability, has allowed Salah to develop into the world-class level. It is easy to say that Salah joined Liverpool at the perfect time and that he has been incorporated with these excellent players. However, it is, in fact, the case that Salah’s arrival at Liverpool was almost the trigger to take them to the next level. Salah’s first season saw them reach the Champions League final and they managed to retain it the following season. When committing to deeper analysis, it is clear to see his goals and presence in the games themselves have pushed Liverpool to the next level and should he continue to score goals and get assists in the same veil, Liverpool will stay there for the foreseeable future.
This tactical analysis will examine Salah’s key skills that have been on show within this season and the main reasons that he is seen as one of the best forwards in the world. This scout report will also allow us to look at how Liverpool’s tactics have contributed significantly to Salah’s development as a player.
The great attacking players of our time are as good on their strong foot as they are on their weak foot. They can control, run and finish with the ball using whichever foot is necessary. This makes them stand out to ordinary players. Salah is no different and despite his left foot being deadly in attacking situations, cutting onto his right foot isn’t a problem. He has scored 11 goals with his right foot since arriving at Liverpool. This may not seem like a huge number of goals, however, it is still a huge number of goals considering it is his weaker foot. In his first season at Liverpool, it was the case that Salah often played both on the left and the right. This, therefore, gave him the learning opportunity to use his right foot in attacking situations. When it comes to dribbling, it is the same. He can dribble with his right foot to devastating effect and put defenders in a daze with his skill.
Below is an example of this from Liverpool’s 2-0 home victory against Watford. We can see Salah on the left side of the field, cutting onto his right foot. He is then able to finish past Ben Foster using his right foot which gives Liverpool the lead. This is incredibly important when separating players from ordinary to a world-class level. Salah can use both feet when dribbling and when scoring. This has contributed significantly to his goal tally and his dribbling statistics.
Running in behind
Salah’s ability to run in behind is of great importance to the Liverpool tactical set-up. The attacking transitions that Liverpool create when they win the ball back off the opposition are where they are at their most deadly and can kill teams by being clinical. Salah is vital in this component of their play as when he does not have the ball at his feet he always attempts to make a run in behind that is extremely useful for the man on the ball to find. Salah is also one of the fastest players in the world without the ball at his feet. Therefore, when he makes the run there are few defenders with the sprint speed to catch up with him and win the ball back. This is key to Liverpool scoring from counter-attacking situations when the defensive line of the opposition is high and not organised. Salah’s game has matured so this is not the only attacking movement he commits to. Within his first season at Liverpool, he was making this run all the time without any variation. This has changed as he now often moves wider to create space for others. However, running in behind is still an excellent skill that he possesses which is vital for Liverpool.
Below is an example of this from Liverpool’s 3-1 victory over Manchester City. We can see Andy Robertson on the ball looking for options when Liverpool are looking to counter-attack. Salah makes an amazing run between the left centre-back and the left-back. He is found fantastically and can head home. This run from Salah in behind the defensive line is a trademark and he gets a significant amount of goals from doing this. This has always been present since he arrived at Liverpool and it has only improved as time has gone by.
When Liverpool counter-attack, it is most certainly the case that there are not many teams in the world as good at doing so. This is not to say that this the only type of play that they commit to, however, when they find themselves counter-attacking there are few teams that can stop the likes of Salah from scoring. This is because of an excellent spatial awareness that he possesses, coupled with his pace when going forward. These aspects of Salah’s game make him perfect in Liverpool’s attacking system and it is evident why he gets so many goals from these positions. When committing analysis on attacking players, we are often quick to highlight what the manager can do better to get the most out of the attacking players. However, in the case of Liverpool, the most effective use of Salah’s ability are within Klopp’s setup and a continuation of the current setup will most certainly see a continuation in goal scoring output from Salah.
Below is perhaps the most effective showing of Salah’s ability to run in behind. A noticeable aspect of this goal is that as opposed to coming off the right, Salah finds himself making the run from the centre of Liverpool’s attack. This is often something that he and Firmino do to confuse opposition as to who to mark. Firmino’s positioning allows Salah to make the run in behind through the middle and he can score to put Liverpool 3-0 up. It is evident that running in behind is an aspect of Salah’s game which is at its best and a continuation of this will mean a greater output in front of goal.
Salah often gets the label for being a selfish player. An incident at Burnley where Liverpool won 3-0 saw Mané portray a huge show of frustration at Salah for not passing him the ball when Mané was through on goal. This brought about huge criticism from football fans towards Salah for thinking about himself before thinking about the team. However, these claims are often significantly overstated and not representative of Salah’s game as a whole. Salah has 24 assists to his name during his time thus far at Anfield, which shows he is not selfish. Furthermore, the passes that Salah plays, often in behind, are critical for Mané and Firmino to get onto and score from. These statistics highlight Salah’s unselfish nature and his ability to find a pass. As mentioned, the through balls that he produces from the left side of the pitch are critical in attacking transitions. They often set Liverpool forward on the attack and they are often perfect in finding his fellow attackers.
Below is an example of this from Liverpool’s home game against Southampton. We can see Salah coming in off the left side of the pitch with the ball and finding an excellent pass into Firmino who ends up scoring. The run itself is perfect from Firmino, however, the pass to find him from Salah is perfect and allows him to slot home with relative ease. These passes that Salah makes are significant for Liverpool going forward on the front foot. Mané and Firmino make excellent runs during games and Salah is the key to finding them.
The close and often narrow-based attacking system that Liverpool have in place often contributes to this. Manchester City, for example, deploys their wider players extremely wide to create spaces on the inside for the attacking midfielders to drop into. Liverpool, on the other hand, have Salah, Mané and Firmino extremely close together to allow link-up play between the three players. This is better suited to teams that want to do their damage in transitions, as is the case with Liverpool. This increases the output of the front players, as they are more likely to find themselves in situations where they are closer together and they can find each other more regularly. Salah’s passing range is also very deceptive. What this means is that if there is an obvious pass to be made, Salah will try to find a pass that is harder to make, however, will increase Liverpool’s chances of scoring a goal. This is also an aspect of the Liverpool front three, as playing the obvious pass will simply allow the opposition to get back quicker.
Below is an example of this from Liverpool’s 1-0 away win at White Hart Lane. We can see Salah on the ball, with the option to play the ball to Trent Alexander- Arnold who is in bags of space on the right-hand side. He could also lay to ball off to Jordan Henderson who is also in a great position. However, Salah opts to play a pass into Firmino who can turn and finish using his left foot. This shows Salah has an element of trust for his attacking partner and knows that by passing to him Liverpool has a better chance of scoring. This makes Salah’s passing effective and deadly in terms of output.
To conclude, it is clear to see why Mohamed Salah has developed into one of the best forwards in the world. His ability to run at players, his passing and ability to find space have allowed him to earn the ‘world-class’ label. Klopp’s tactics have of course hugely contributed to his development and it is hard to see him producing the same level of output at any other club. Salah is the perfect modern forward and as he is reaching what could be described as his ‘peak’ years in football we could yet see him break more records and score even more goals. Simply put, Salah is an absolute world-class talent, with the potential to go down as not only a Liverpool great, but a footballing legend.