Salah

Liverpool: Can Mo Salah play with Darwin Nunez or is that why he is struggling?


Only Thierry Henry has won the Golden Boot more times than Mohamed Salah. Liverpool’s No11 claimed his third last season having netted 23 times in 35 appearances for the Reds.

The 30-year-old put pen to paper on a new deal in July in what was, at the time at least, viewed as one of the statements of the summer.

Yet as we near closer to February, some are beginning to question whether it was the right decision at all to make Salah the highest paid player in the club’s history. Of course, the current situation at Anfield skews opinion right now.

The Reds are ninth in the Premier League table, 10 points off of a top-four place and 21 behind leaders Arsenal. Jurgen Klopp’s side have won just one of their five matches in January - an FA Cup replay against Wolves - and are currently on a three-game winless streak in the English top flight.

Salah last scored a goal for Liverpool on Boxing Day in a 3-1 win over Aston Villa. He’s on just seven goals for the Premier League campaign, an eye-watering 18 behind Erling Haaland in the Golden Boot race. He has just one goal in his last six outings for the Reds and the optics aren’t great.

Klopp’s men are in dire need of goals - scoring just once in the league since the turn of the year - and their main man isn’t doing his job. At a glance, he’s underperforming his expected goals (xG) total by 3.32 and whereas last season he was involved in a goal or an assist in 69% of the matches he appeared in, that figure this term stands at just 42%.

Salah

Liverpool’s struggles aren’t solely to do with Salah’s, but he is paid the big bucks to deliver the big moments.

He’s done it previously but he’s yet to do it this season and currently ranks third for 'big chances' (0.35 xG+) missed this season behind Haaland (14) and Darwin Nunez (15).

In fact, the Uruguayan's finishing woes have deflected attention away from the former Roma man’s own issues in front of goal.

Liverpool lacking without Darwin

Darwin Nunez can take centre stage in the Merseyside derby

Salah has managed just a single shot in each of his last three Premier League appearances - a run in which Liverpool have taken just a point. In the latter two matches, Darwin didn’t start. This cannot be a coincidence. Salah is nowhere near as dangerous when the former Benfica man isn’t involved, and neither are the Reds in general.

This is the key point. Whereas the previous system allowed Salah to be the main goal threat, the current one is centred around Liverpool's £64m summer signing.

If Darwin is getting all of these opportunities then it means Salah simply isn’t. And the numbers back it up.

Salah

For example, last season Salah was averaging 4.5 shots per match and had an xG per game average of 0.81 with an expected assists (xA) average of 0.29.

This season, these numbers have taken a hit. He’s attempting just 3.14 shots, with his xG and xA dropping to 0.54 and 0.2 respectively.

Why is Salah struggling?

Earlier on in the campaign, it did appear as though Salah had adopted more of a creative role to facilitate Darwin.

However, that didn’t last too long and his creative numbers are now down on what he was averaging last season. Fewer shots, less of a goal threat and creating less for teammates is not what you would want to associate with your best attacking player, yet this is the predicament Liverpool find themselves in.

It is, of course, all of their own doing. Yes, Salah is missing chances but he’s getting fewer opportunities to right those wrongs. In previous years, he would miss plenty but then the sheer volume of shots would see him convert. He has never been clinical, he was just a reliable goal threat whose traits married perfectly with the system.

That was and still is Salah.

Salah

The new system sees him a lot more isolated in wide areas. The right side is dysfunctional - there’s a reason Salah, Jordan Henderson, Harvey Elliott and Trent Alexander-Arnold are all being criticised. When everyone is bad, the system is the issue.

Instead of focusing on what Salah isn’t doing, the focus should be on why he isn’t able to do these things. People have claimed he’s stopped trying after securing a new deal. There are even some who believe he’s past his peak and Liverpool should’ve sold him in the summer.

If we look at his last three attempts in the Premier League, the problem becomes much clearer.

Liverpool

Having received a pass from Naby Keita, Salah carries the ball into the area and works it onto his stronger side. He’s unable to test Kepa but it isn’t exactly a high-value opportunity. For him to score from there, a lot of things have to go his way.

Liverpool

Against Brighton, he’s moving away from goal and on his weaker side. The angle is against him and the hosts have the numbers to defend the situation. His right-footed effort doesn’t test Robert Sanchez.

Liverpool

Again, the numbers don’t favour Salah in this phase against Brentford. The near post is blocked off by the defender and you are asking a lot of him to be able to curl that beyond David Raya from that position.

His shot strikes the man in front of him and rolls out for a corner.

'A broken system'

You can highlight faults with each of the three attempts but the biggest issue for Liverpool is that these are the only efforts he’s had in those matches. One of the most productive players in Premier League history is now being limited to one shot per game from unfavourable areas.

People are expecting perfection - to score one goal from a single shot - but he’s never been that type of player. Salah has always needed a few to get off the mark

He might not ever be the Salah of yesteryear, no longer the main goal threat as centre-forward, but Klopp and his coaching team need to think of a way to get their No11 much more involved in better areas.

Salah isn’t broken, the system he’s being used in is.

Moises Caicedo - Transfer Blog

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