Liverpool made it two wins from two at the start of their Premier League title defence with a 2-0 win over Chelsea at Stamford Bridge last Sunday.
A brace from Sadio Mane, Fabinho’s performance in the heart of defence and the debut of Thiago formed the main talking points, but the performance of Mohamed Salah is worthy of similar levels of praise.
Although the Egyptian didn’t register a goal and follow on from his opening day hat-trick against Leeds United he showed that his link-up play and passing — attributes consistently overlooked when judging the number 11’s skill set — that could see him become, and thrive as, the Reds number 9.
Perhaps to prepare for the arrival of Thiago, Jurgen Klopp experimented with lining his team up in a 4231 formation in pre-season and any change back to the shape the German played at Borussia Dortmund could open up a vacancy for Salah as the central attacker.
With 97 goals to date during his stint at Anfield, the former Roma flier is clearly an excellent finisher and specialises on playing on the shoulder of the last defender, using his trademark speed to run in behind.
But his ability to knit moves together and bring others into play is also an element he brings to proceedings, and it was exhibited gloriously the Reds’ win against Frank Lampard’s men.
In the below video, we see Salah dropping deep — level with Thiago as the deepest midfielder — and accurately spraying an incisive through-ball into the path of Trent Alexander Arnold.
— Parted Beard (@PartedBeard) September 20, 2020
For Liverpool’s opening goal — which Sadio Mane nodded home triumphantly — Salah provided a hockey assist by dropping deep and having the vision to play the give and go with Roberto Firmino that lead to the Brazilian assisting Mane’s opener with a cross.
The 28-year-old also provided an arching outside of the boot pass to Virgil van Dijk — reminiscent of the assist he laid on for Mane away to Bayern Munich in the Champions League in 2018 — but the Dutchman could not capitalise on the opportunity.
Not bad for a poacher 😌 https://t.co/7rs2iNTFLw
— Dil (@DilTee_) September 20, 2020
Another area of Salah’s game that is at a high level is his strength and ability — in the manner of an old school, lumbering centre forward — to hold up the ball.
Despite standing just under 5’8″, the Egyptian international is blessed with indomitable core strength. In a victory over Leicester City at Anfield in the 2017/2018 season, Salah — despite giving up a lot of weight and height in the duel — famously spun Harry Maguire, totally outmuscling the England centre half, in the box before scoring.
It’s not as if playing as the central forward would take a massive alteration for the rapid forward, given how well he performed in the role in the winter of the 2018/2019 season.
With Firmino behind in the number 10 slot and Xherdan Shaqiri playing to the right, Salah took up his new role seamlessly as Klopp’s team put together a brilliant run of form which included a 5-1 thumping of Arsenal at Anfield.
Now, with the signing of Thiago — a player more accustomed to playing in a double pivot midfield — Liverpool have the capacity to switch to a 4231 with their Egyptian star as the spearhead in attack.
With Firmino, Takumi Minamino and Curtis Jones — as well as Mane or Diogo Jota off the flanks — all well equipped to play in the number 10 slot off a striker, Salah could have several options to find with his underappreciated passing game.
And, given his well-honed talents at running in behind defences and finishing chances, the Liverpool number 11 — on and off the ball — has all the tools –physical, mental and technical — to excel as the Reds’ line leading number 9.