As the old adage goes, form is temporary, class is permanent.
It can happen to the best. Harry Kane, for example, scored just once in his first 13 Premier League games for Tottenham last season, before netting 16 in his next 24 outings once he had his mojo back.
Going under the radar slightly given their results did not particularly suffer as they hunted down an unprecedented quadruple, but opposite to Kane, Mohamed Salah’s outstanding goalscoring form in the first half of the season for Liverpool regressed after the turn of the year.
Salah scored 20 non-penalty goals in 26 games in all competitions before heading to the Africa Cup of Nations, where his Egypt team suffered an agonising defeat on penalties to Sadio Mane’s Senegal in the final.
On his return, Salah scored just five non-penalty goals in 25 outings. The assumption was that the 30-year-old needed a break, and he began the new campaign with a penalty against Manchester City in the 3-1 Community Shield victory and scored the equaliser at Fulham in an opening day 2-2 draw.
However, he has failed to score in three home games against Crystal Palace, Bournemouth and Newcastle United, with his only other goal so far being a consolation in the 2-1 defeat at Manchester United.
That is not to say Salah is necessarily out of form (three goals in six outings is hardly bad so early in the season) but when he has set such high standards, seeing Liverpool have to so often rely on goals from elsewhere just feels a bit… strange.
Ahead of the Merseyside derby on Saturday, Stats Perform has taken a look at why Salah might not be producing the numbers we so often associate with him in front of goal. And in fact, playing against Everton at Goodison Park could be just the tonic.
— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) May 28, 2022
Three of Salah’s four Premier League goals for Liverpool against Everton have come at the home of the Toffees, with only Michael Owen (four) having scored more away goals for the Reds against their local rivals in the competition.
Salah’s next goal in the Premier League will see him overtake Steven Gerrard’s haul of 120 for the club.
It is frankly remarkable the goal has not already arrived, with Salah somehow unable to score in Liverpool’s win against Bournemouth last weekend, even though almost everyone else did as Jurgen Klopp’s men ran out 9-0 victors at Anfield.
He had chances, incredibly missing from close range after excellent build-up down the left in the first half, before controlling a lofted Fabinho pass in the second and firing over the bar.
In the much more difficult 2-1 win against Newcastle on Wednesday, Salah was relatively anonymous in front of goal, having just two shots, with neither on target.
Is this bad form though, or is Salah just being asked to fill a different role by Klopp?
The sale of Mane to Bayern Munich always felt like it was going to have a significant impact, with the Senegalese attacker such a vital part of their forward line in recent years.
Luis Diaz’s January arrival looked to be setting the table for the next evolution of the attack, with Mane playing down the middle after the Colombia international came in, but the signing of striker Darwin Nunez at the end of the season seemed to signal a slightly more drastic change.
What would it mean for Salah? Well, so far it appears to have had an impact on his role, even with Nunez missing for the last three games through suspension after getting sent off on his home debut against Palace.
Last season, Salah averaged 56 touches per 90 minutes in the Premier League. So far this season he has averaged just 48, seemingly indicating fewer moves are going through him.
More noticeably, although the season is still very young, he is taking fewer shots than usual. Last season he was taking 4.5 shots per 90 in the league, which so far this campaign is down to just 2.8.
You might think that could be due to being more selective in his shots, but that also does not appear to be the case, with his shooting accuracy down at 33.3 per cent from 59.4 last season.
It is not all numbers going down though, as Salah appears to be on a mission to act as chief creator, having already crafted 21 chances from open play for team-mates in his five Premier League games, already more than a third as many as the 62 he created in 35 league games last campaign.
He made eight key passes in the draw with Palace, four at United and six against Newcastle, more than any other Liverpool player in each game, suggesting Salah is preparing himself for life alongside Nunez, who gobbled up chances at Benfica last season.
The 23-year-old had a shooting accuracy percentage of 62.3 per cent in the Primeira Liga in 2021-22, and a shot conversion rate of 30.6 per cent, compared to Salah’s conversion rate of 22.8 per cent in a season in which he still scored 23 Premier League goals.
This could mean that, while not exactly reverting back to being the winger he was at Roma when playing with Edin Dzeko, Salah’s job in the team may be evolving from main goal-getter to someone who can either score or create in equal measure, making Liverpool a little less predictable.
In his final season with Roma in 2016-17 before moving to Merseyside, he averaged 2.9 shots per game and created 2.5 chances from open play, not entirely dissimilar to the numbers he has put up in the early stages of the new season.
The plan with the presence of Nunez is presumably to cause one of two things, either lead to the Uruguayan making use of the space left by defenders all rushing to stop Salah, or allow the Egyptian more room than usual as opposition players are forced to keep an eye on his new team-mate.
You will never extinguish Salah’s thirst for goals. Breaking scoring records is what he lives for, but as he said recently in an interview with Sky Sports: “I never say before the season [my individual goals]. But the collective one is the Premier League and Champions League. It has to be. That was my target last season and I go again until I win both again.”
Whatever it takes to win more silverware at Liverpool, Salah will do it, and don’t be surprised if that starts with a return to form against winless Everton.
After all, class is permanent.
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