Mohamed Salah’s season has been a curious one to follow so far. The Liverpool talisman signed a new contract in July but this term, he is shooting and touching the ball less than ever in a red shirt.
The three-time Golden Boot winner remains integral to Jürgen Klopp on Merseyside, but the German must find a way of getting the most from him in his new-look 4-4-2 system. The formation change was enforced less than two weeks ago as a means of improving the form of the team, but Salah’s position remains unclear.
After initially being deployed on the right wing in a role that isn’t too dissimilar to the one he’s occupied for years at Anfield, the Egyptian was fielded through the middle against Rangers on Wednesday night. Having been introduced as a second-half substitute, it took just six minutes and 12 seconds for him to score a record-breaking hat-trick.
Overall, based on the lessons of the new season, it seems Salah is far more effective when operating closer to goal, which is interesting considering his age and the evolution of a certain Cristiano Ronaldo.
Now aged 30, the Reds forward isn’t quite as energetic as he once was. He appears marginally slower across the board, while still possessing enough pace to beat opponents. It is reasonable to suggest he’s not as suited to darting up and down the wide areas as he was when he first moved to English shores.
As a result of his age and the stage of his career right now, Salah is naturally going to behave in a more efficient manner in the coming years, saving his energy when possible and focusing on what matters in his eyes.
Ronaldo provides a template for Klopp to follow. After all, the Portuguese international originally emerged as a tricky winger who was obsessed with engaging in one-on-one dribbling battles with opponents.
Sir Alex Ferguson fielded him on the flanks in the Premier League within his Manchester United system, which was usually 4-4-2, although later developed into a 4-5-1 of sorts.
Over time, Ronaldo moved closer to goal, developing more and more of an interest in finding the back of the net rather than dribbling. He began as a winger, started to become an inside forward and then eventually played through the middle for the Red Devils, with Wayne Rooney accommodating him by playing out wide.
Once Ronaldo made his big-money move to Real Madrid, he played at the tip of everything for the Spanish giants, scoring an incredible 451 goals in 438 competitive appearances, with Karim Benzema acting as his facilitator for the most part.
Now aged 37, the six-time Ballon d’Or winner is sometimes criticised for how much of his game is dedicated to scoring. He has perhaps drifted too far from his original game, to such an extent that he now offers goals and nothing else within a team environment, creating very little for others and refusing to defend.
Salah wont be afforded that same luxury by Klopp, but he can certainly take inspiration from how Ronaldo has moved away from the flanks and towards the penalty box as he’s got older. He could realistically spend the remainder of his final Anfield contract as a poacher, rather than a do-it-all wide player. And, still seven years younger than the Manchester United man, he is more than capable of interpreting that role in a slightly less limited manner.
His hat-trick against Rangers was a freak occurrence, but it could almost act as an epiphany for the Liverpool boss, who will now surely realise that rather than fielding his most talented player on the flanks and away from the real action, he should instead find a way to harvest his qualities in the centre. In that regard, Ronaldo is the template to follow.
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