By 90Min
October 06, 2018

Mohamed Salah is struggling.

We know this because we are told it constantly.

The tabloid headlines tell us he's in crisis, the sage pundits um and ah about snatched chances and second season syndrome, the Twitterati debate whether Sergio Ramos is still weighing on his shoulder like the spectre at the feast.

Whatever the cause, Salah is struggling.

But wait, is he though?

ALBERTO PIZZOLI/GettyImages

Plainly, as anyone who sat through the dour, rain soaked performance at the Stadio San Paolo on Wednesday will attest, we are not witnessing the PFA and FWA Footballer of the Year in his finest fettle, in which he ran roughshod over Arsenal, Manchester City and Roma among many others last season, terrorising defences, scoring from improbable angles, moving at improbable speeds and setting new records in the process. 


However, the numbers on the page (or at least the ones that mark the difference between form and crisis for a large section of fans) for 2018/19 aren't terrible. In seven Premier League outings, Salah has three goals and an assist. It's one goal fewer than top scorer Sadio Mane in 28 fewer minutes on the pitch. 

At the same point last season, Salah had four goals and two assists. The better of you at maths will note that that is definitely more, but it's not a lot more. Probably not enough to make this dip anywhere near an emergency situation. 

In fact, it took Salah a few games of 2017/18 (the season in which he more than doubled his best ever goalscoring return) to get his aim properly calibrated for Liverpool.

While the goals came steadily, his early days were also rife with missed opportunities. He finished the season with 144 shots in the Premier League - second only to Harry Kane.

Before tearing down the Anfield pitch at breakneck speed to add Liverpool's third in second 57th minute of the 4-0 win over Arsenal last August, Salah had already missed a near identical chance, skewing a one-on-one with Petr Cech. He had also failed to beat Cech from point blank range in the first half. Misses are rarely dwelled upon when you win 4-0.

Michael Regan/GettyImages

Fans raved about their new flying winger, but wondered greedily if he might just be able to work on his finishing a bit. While he soon flourished and cautious internal conversation among Liverpool fans over his ability to beat the keeper soon dissipated, Salah was never truly lumbered with the burden of expectation in his first season.

Modern football debate is increasingly done in black and white terms: success or failure, bargain or flop, GOAT or fraud. There is little room for middle ground in the battle for clicks, mentions and comments. The media needs to fill social media post schedules and air time, and we need to fill lulls in pub conversation and point-score with people we probably don't really have much to say to otherwise.

How Salah eventually reacts to the change in expectation and scrutiny of his performances may ultimately define just how good a player he becomes. Good players have been dragged been dragged into a self-fulfilling prophecy before, but great ones never are.

Klopp spoke of the gradual shift in perception about his star forward, ahead of Liverpool's game against Manchester City this weekend.

"The only thing that has massively changed is the kind of questions you ask," he said, via Liverpoolfc.com. "Last year, I don’t think he was a big story from the beginning to talk about. Then it started to become a slightly positive story, ‘wow, not bad’ and then ‘oh, even better’ and stuff like that. It all was a surprise.

“That’s the world out there and that’s how it is in my job. If I win games, I know everything about football. If I lose three in a row, people think I have no clue about football. Both are not true – the truth is always somewhere in between."

“I am completely relaxed. I didn’t say Mo should relax because he has to work hard, but that’s what he is doing. It is a completely normal situation, nothing to worry about and I am relaxed about it.”

There are things to work on, as with every player, but Klopp is 'relaxed' because there isn't much to worry about.

GLYN KIRK/GettyImages

As Michael Cox for ESPN writes: "Salah's underlying statistics remain very encouraging. No one in the Premier League has found themselves with more 'big chances' (eight) as defined by Opta. Similarly, his 'expected goals' return is the highest in the Premier League. Players' overall output usually returns to their 'expected goal' figure after a while."

Ahead of the meeting with City at Anfield on Sunday, Liverpool are unbeaten in seven, have scored three more (and conceded eight fewer) than at this stage last season, and have shorter odds for the title than in a long, long time. So what if Salah is one goal shy of his own par?

Would it be so terrible to have a 20-goal a season player rather a 30-goal one? If the team is playing well, who cares?

And anyway, he's doing fine for now. Let's talk about something else...

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HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)