There was an interesting discussion on Twitter this week between an Arsenal fan and a Manchester United fan concerning a current Liverpool star.
TV celebrity Piers Morgan stated that Mohamed Salah is “the best player in the Premier League since Thierry Henry.” Former United defender-turned-pundit Gary Neville responded by quickly reeling off 14 players who he feels are more worthy of that tag than the Egyptian.
This is not something any Liverpool fan would enjoy admitting, but Neville is right, even if he did rather strangely omit Steven Gerrard from his list. He also failed to include Frank Lampard, Dennis Bergkamp, Gareth Bale and Wayne Rooney, which probably emphasises his point further.
Salah has had an incredible seven months, but it is just seven months. It’s too small a sample size to be making such grandiose claims.
That isn’t to say he’s a flash in the pan, though. If it’s based purely on the last seven months then Salah looks as good as anyone, as he’s been an absolute revelation. The exciting thing for Kopites is that he’s still relatively young and there is nothing to suggest that he won’t continue the form he has shown and possibly even improve on it. Until he has done it over a sustained period of time, though, then Neville’s scepticism is justified.
Salah is not even Liverpool’s best Premier League player yet. If he carries on like this then one day he might be, but he has a long way to go yet to overtake Gerrard, Robbie Fowler and Luis Suarez. Still, what he has done so far has been pretty remarkable.
Former Reds’ striker John Aldridge knows a thing or two about goal scoring and he was fulsome in his praise of the Egyptian on Twitter following last Saturday’s 4-1 win over West Ham.
Another record broken by Salah��equaled my 31 goals 88/89 season!!in February!ridiculously good,and he’s a winger������now for 40 I hope. pic.twitter.com/HBg3iFYUDh
– John Aldridge (@Realaldo474) February 26, 2018
Salah plays out wide but he’s not a winger, at least not in the traditional sense. In Aldridge’s day if you were small, skilful and fast you played on the wing with instructions to run down the line and put crosses into the centre-forward. Those types of players were rarely trusted to play centrally and scored fewer goals because they were not encouraged to get in goal-scoring positions. Wingers were told “get chalk on your boots,” meaning to hog the touchline and stay wide.
The game has evolved drastically since then and players who would have been shunted out to the wing are now being utilised in far more imaginative ways, particularly by Manchester City, Chelsea and Liverpool. Salah has 31 goals this season, City’s Raheem Sterling has 20 while Eden Hazard leads the way for Chelsea with 15.
Salah and fellow Liverpool “wide man” Sadio Mane rarely go on the outside and deliver crosses, and as such cannot really be described as wingers. They are forwards and their job is to score goals as much as it is to create them.
The centre-forward role has also been redefined in Jurgen Klopp’s current system. A big part of Aldridge’s job was to lay the ball off and get in the box to try and get on the end of a cross from John Barnes. But Klopp’s centre-forward, Roberto Firmino, is as much a facilitator for others as he is a goalscorer himself.
Firmino has found the net 22 times so far this season but he brings so much more to the team than just goals. Salah and Mane have both benefited greatly from the unselfish work of the Brazilian and that balance and blend means Liverpool arguably have the best front three in Europe at present.
Individually they may not be as highly regarded as others (PSG’s trio of Neymar, Edinson Cavani and Kylian Mbappe, for example), but collectively, the Reds attacking triumvirate are a perfect match.
Salah scores the most and therefore gets most of the plaudits, but there are some Liverpool supporters who will argue that it is Firmino who has been the Reds’ Player of the Season to this point. It’s a difficult call as both have been sensational.
The Egyptian may one day justify the billing given to him by Morgan, but it’s probably in Liverpool’s best interests that he doesn’t. Be great, by all means, but not too great as that usually results in a move to Spain.
Whether any of Liverpool’s forwards would be as effective playing in a different team for a different manager makes for an interesting discussion. All are excellent players individually, but collectively they become much more than that. Would they enjoy the same success elsewhere?
Liverpool supporters hope they will never have cause to find out, because keeping these three together for a long time could be the key to finally ending their long wait for the Premier League title.
Dave Usher is one of ESPN’s Liverpool bloggers and the founder of LFC fanzine and website The Liverpool Way. Follow him on Twitter: @theliverpoolway.