Mohamed Salah is back.
After a few weeks of relatively low-key performances while clearly playing through an ankle injury, the Egyptian has burst back into form and has netted goals in games versus Watford (x2), Bournemouth and Red Bull Salzburg.
The most striking feature of Salah’s game in recent weeks, though, is how well the forward has linked the play, in the style of a burly old school centre forward.
Standing at 5’9, the former Roma flyer is not the most physically domineering. His core strength, however, is exceptional and makes him capable of matching even the biggest defenders in the physical stakes.
Napoli’s world class centre half, Kalidou Koulibaly, is a player the Liverpool number 11 has regularly shown his deceptive strength against. In the almost interminable set of Champions League fixtures between the club’s in the past two season’s, Salah has — in each of the four games — given the Senegalese stopper a run for his money in the physicality stakes.
Alisson Becker and his miraculous save from Arkadiusz Milik is the moment most readily associated with the Reds’ key match day 6 Champions League win over the Italians last season, but the match winning goal was Salah showing huge amounts of core strength to roll Koulibaly in the box before firing home.
The forward affectionately known to Liverpool fans as the Egyptian King has used this physicality to assist goals — both from Naby Keita, in what looks to be a blossoming on field relationship — against Bournemouth in the Premier League and Monterrey in the Club World Cup and this new weapon in his arsenal could offer the European Champions a new tactical dimension.
In the league game away to the Cherries, Salah backed into their defence, receiving an incisive pass from Keita. The 27 year old’s presence sparked a panic in the home team’s backline and, taking advantage, he deftly back-heeled the ball — in the manner of Firmino assisting him away to Southampton in the 17/18 season — into the path of the Guinean, who made no mistake by calmly scoring past Aaron Ramsdale in the Bournemouth goal.
The African duo repeated the trick in last Wednesday’s Club World Cup clash with Monterrey of Mexico. Finding the ball outside the box, Salah — showing an almost telepathic level of prescience and sympathy to Keita’s run — slid the most beautiful of reverse balls into the path of the former Red Bull Leipzig man’s run. With the defence completely splintered, the Guinean had only the keeper to beat and did so with aplomb.
Going forward, Salah occupying the centre forward berth in a 4231 formation could offer Liverpool an attacking fluidity that would be extremely hard to for oppositions teams to contain.
The Egyptian — as proved last year in his run as the central striker — is capable of playing as the spearhead of the attack, from the right or, as we have seen in recent weeks, even as an auxiliary number 10.
Roberto Firmino earned his move to Liverpool through a high level of performance when playing as the second striker at Hoffenheim off Anthony Modeste, a target man. At Liverpool, although he has played off the main forward to a good level, the 28 year old has primarily played as the “false 9” with distinction.
There is the potential for the Brazilian and Salah to swap roles in game, with the Egyptian capable of leading the line or dropping deep and utilising his underrated play-making abilities, with Firmino capable of doing either.
For a defence having the deal with the pace of Salah one moment, which would mean utilising a high line would be next to tactically suicidal, and then with the sharp and intelligent movement of Firmino the next has the potential to cause carnage, even before you factor in the quality of the supporting cast, Sadio Mane, Georginio Wijnaldum, Alex Oxlade Chamberlain and Naby Keita,
Pigeonholed as just a quick winger after his struggles at Chelsea, Salah, under the expert tutelage of Jurgen Klopp, has improved into the complete centre forward.