Tony Evans: It's Time For Mo Salah to Shine
There is no doubt that Mo Salah is a Liverpool great. He has been the cutting edge of the Jurgen Klopp era. Unfortunately, he’s dropped down a gear just at the moment and he needs to step up another level.
We’ve come to expect more than seven goals in half a Premier League season. He’s going to have to double that output in the next 19 games to make qualification for next year’s Champions League a possibility.
But first it’s Brighton in the FA Cup. After the embarrassment of the 3-0 defeat at the Amex a couple of weeks ago, a free-scoring performance from the striker would be welcome.
Saying a player is out of form covers a multitude of reasons. Opponents know what Liverpool do best and have been flooding the right, denying Salah and Trent Alexander-Arnold space.
The constant change in the front three means there’s no consistency of movement among the forwards. This has definitely affected Salah. The midfield has been awful, too.
So why single out Salah? Well, for a couple of reasons. You can’t be a talisman and then back away from responsibility. The 30-year-old signed a new contract last year that made him the highest paid player and he has a great sense of his own status. It’s time to live up to both.
He is also coming off a rest period during the World Cup break. Everyone hoped the layoff would do him good and he’d come back sharper and reinvigorated. It hasn’t worked out that way.
You can’t criticise Salah for lack of effort. He’s working back as hard as ever – probably a bit too much, given the midfield’s dysfunction – and making runs up front. It is obvious he’s disappointed with the service and his shooting. Three games have passed without him getting an effort on target.
In the league game, Brighton made sure there were always men surrounding him. Klopp needs to find a way of getting the ball to Salah. That might need significant tweaks to the system. The two up-top pairing with Cody Gakpo at the Amex misfired. The front three does not work in any of its present incarnations, either.
There were signs that Darwin Nunez was forming an understanding with the Egyptian. The Uruguayan should return from injury against Brighton and the master of chaos will at least give the defence something else to think about. Even so, the onus is on Salah to propel the side forward.
The greats drag teams over the line. They lift their colleagues a level. Perhaps Salah hasn’t had the praise he deserves because Alisson, Virgil van Dijk, Alexander-Arnold and the rest were getting the plaudits. Now the spotlight is properly on the man whose goals are needed more than ever.
We’re not asking for much, Mo. Just break the 20-goal mark in the league and score enough to ensure Liverpool are in next year’s Champions League.
We don’t care how you do it. Firing the team into the top four would be good, leading the side to victory in May in Istanbul would be even better.
There’s a moment a player has to ignore all the problems around him, put aside the reasons for substandard performances and take the initiative. This is the time for Salah to shine. He’s done it before, after all.
Keep hearing that the FA Cup is Liverpool’s only chance of a trophy. I’ve even said it myself.
Then, earlier in the week, I was in conversation with another Red about an event in May. “Is that the week of the Champions League semi-final,” he asked. “That’d rule out the Tuesday and Wednesday.”
“I’ll check,” came the reply.
Five minutes later, it struck me that we’d both taken it as a given that Klopp’s team would be in the last four. Real Madrid? Didn’t cross our minds.
That’s what Liverpool in Europe do to you. If history’s taught us anything, it’s don’t bet against this lot. A bit of payback for Madrid would be good, too.
The FA Cup is important as well. Perhaps, in retrospect, it would have been better to be knocked out last season so that the team could conserve their energy and concentrate on the league and Europe. Maybe not. Momentum and a winning mindset can’t be measured.
Being able to win trophies in periods of transition is important. For younger players and new arrivals to the club, ending the year with a medal means a lot.
Fewer than half of the Premier League clubs will be in the fifth round draw. Beat Brighton and the domestic knockout games might turn out to be a chance to build confidence and put a run of results together. Defeats hurt morale. Wins boost it.
The ‘Naby Keita is the saviour’ show moves on to the South Coast this weekend. Will it ever end? Only, you suspect, when he moves.
Then it’ll be, “look what he’s doing in Germany/Italy/Spain. He should be doing it for us if only we’d had the patience.”
Yeah, right. Still, at the moment, he’s hardly worse than the other options.
My favourite FA Cup moment? Doing the Double in 1986. Arguably the greatest moment in the club’s history.
Just 10 days before it looked like we might end the season without any trophies. Remarkable.
Even more stunning was the reaction of Evertonians at Wembley. Could you imagine the anarchy if a similar scenario happened today? I shiver at the thought.
Instead, they sang “Merseyside” and, effectively, saved the game. A year on from Heysel (yes, that’s the Heysel we NEVER mention), any incidents involving Scousers would have gone a long way to ruining the sport in this country.
While it might be funny to see Everton’s predicament at the moment, there is a bigger picture. We’ve been there with ownership that was so bad it threatened our status and could have caused us long-term problems.
Any time a football club is damaged – or even bankrupted by dodgy owners – we all lose something. Teams are flagbearers for the area and hubs for the community.
Even now, after all the spite, after the building hate, I’d rather not see Everton facing the crisis that is engulfing them. This is a dangerous time with questions over the ownership, a half-built, unfinanced stadium and the threat of relegation. The consequences might be much bigger than a few seasons in the second tier.
And in the end, they are not – or shouldn’t be – the enemy. No matter what they think.