Is Salah really experiencing second-season syndrome?

And he'll keep getting better as the season goes on

Posted by Tom Bodell
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When a player puts in performances as good and as productive as Mohamed Salah’s last season, there is always extra pressure to repeat this in the next campaign.

The 26-year-old has had a busy 12 months, playing regularly in the Premier League and the Champions League — all the way to the final — last season, and also competing at the World Cup during the summer, having been instrumental in his country’s qualification for the tournament.

The Egyptian is currently experiencing a drop in form following his extraordinary season last time out…. or is he? Our friends at Football Whispers take a look at the stats produced by the Liverpool forward which show this might not be the case.

Salah has started the season with three goals and two assists in the first six Premier League games. This is being seen as a poor return in relation to his heroics last time out but in reality, compared with last season’s numbers, there isn’t much difference.

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At this stage last year he had scored just one goal more in the league, plus a couple in the Champions League, and had the same amount of assists but from more games played.

This year he was obviously going to be under more pressure, especially from outside of Liverpool, to repeat or somehow better his numbers from last season. His manager, Jurgen Klopp, has said that of course, they would like him to score more goals, but they are not at all worried about his performances so far this season.

“No one remembers [how he started last season],” said Klopp.

“Of course everyone expects [a repeat of last season], that is clear. We don’t expect that, but we want him to score as often as possible.”

One-season-wonder labels are often tagged to players who struggle to repeat such a productive season, but the truth is Salah is playing a part for his team, and has been at similar performance levels since his time at Roma.

The ridiculous weight placed on his shoulders while representing Egypt at the World Cup appears to be taking some time to shrug off, but his Klopp believes that he is contributing to the team as much as he has always done.

“On the defensive side, the past two games he was outstanding, perfect,” added the German.

“That says everything about him. He is really ready to work for the team in these moments. It is a completely normal situation for an offensive player that they have times when they don’t score. But he is still a threat, has fantastic situations in both games and he is in good shape.”

Much is made of Salah’s body language, but more notice is taken of this when he’s supposedly struggling in front of goal than when he’s scoring in every game. Again, the reality may be that there is not much difference in his demeanour regardless of they type of form he’s in, there are just fewer goal celebrations!

There is no doubt Salah is under the microscope, as shown by the reaction to his angry celebration of Roberto Firmino’s winner against Paris Saint-Germain in the Champions League and the unwarranted furore surrounding his refusal to wind down his window to sign a shirt. Stories such as these are likely to continue throughout the season as the media attention on him increases, but he’s still playing well regardless.

Last season Salah’s expected goals per 90 minutes (xG90) came in at an average of 0.77. So far this season it’s 0.88, so while he may not be finishing as many of these chances, he’s still in the position to score goals and they will surely come.

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His equivalent stats for assists have remained much the same since his last season at Roma. That year he averaged 0.35 expected assists per 90 (xA90), which was more than last year’s 0.25 (he was too busy scoring) and this season’s 0.34.

He can also take the attention away from other players, and so far this season Sadio Mane and Roberto Firmino have benefitted from Salah’s movement and attractiveness to opposition defenders.

The data expects him to score, the people expect him to score, and no doubt his manager will expect him to score, as he did against Southampton on Saturday, but if he doesn’t the club are happy that he is contributing greatly to the team on and off the ball, which is the most important thing at Klopp’s Liverpool.

* Odds subject to change

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