Ewan Roberts: Salah could be more valuable than Mata

Despite being less experienced than the soon-to-exit Spaniard, the 21-year-old Egyptian will provide Chelsea with a different, much-needed threat.
Chelsea has become increasingly used to the sight of Mohamed Salah, in Basel blue and red, wheeling away in celebration after netting against the west Londoners. The Egypt international has scored three times against the Premier League giants since May, but they will not have to put up with this thorn in their side any longer.

As is typical for a side of Chelsea's wealth and standing, the club has moved swiftly to sign Salah, beating Liverpool to his signature in a deal that could rise to 16 million pounds. From fearing the 21-year-old's pace, now the Stamford Bridge outfit can look to harness it in the race for the title.

The Egyptian arrives at the club via Swiss Super League champion Basel, where he has impressed more in European competition than domestically. Last season, he recorded more assists in 14 Europa League outings than he did in 29 league matches, and there is a sense in some quarters that he would have benefited from more time in Switzerland to develop and taper some of unpredictable rawness.

By Ahmed Atta | Goal Arabic Chief Editor

This is truly a historic moment for Egyptian soccer as Mohamed Salah becomes the first Egyptian to play for an elite-level club.

Mido, of course, featured for Tottenham and Roma in recent years, but Salah going to Jose Mourinho's Chelsea takes things to a whole new level.

So from little-known Al Mokawloon to Chelsea via Basel, Salah has really proven his ability in Switzerland and showcased his talents at the very highest level with his performances in the Champions League.

Is he ready for Chelsea and will he fit in? Well he may have to settle for a place on the bench more often than not, especially at the start of his Blues career, while a switch to Liverpool may well have seen him gain more starts. That's not to say he can't make an impact, however, with his frightening pace certainly an asset against tiring teams.

Defensively, as well, Salah offers plenty and that could be one of the main reasons Mourinho opted to sign him. He showed time and time again with Basel that he is capable of tracking back and retaining possession, which of course the Chelsea boss demands from his midfield players.
Ironically, just as Salah impressed Chelsea by punishing the club, it was a goalscoring display in an Egypt Under-23 friendly at the Stadion Rankhof against Basel that convinced the side to sign him. He was invited to train with the Swiss club and signed shortly afterward.

It would have been rather different had Zamalek SC president Mamdouh Abbas recognized Salah's talent. The Egyptian giants, notorious for preventing their players from moving to Europe, had been linked with the devilishly quick winger but eventually decided against a deal.

In a strange quirk of fate, Salah now has the opportunity to establish himself on the grandest of stages in a way that former Egyptian poster-boy Mido, once of Tottenham and Roma, could never quite do. The 30-year-old, who failed to live up to enormous promise, is now the coach of Zamalek – and how he must crave a player of Salah's finesse and trickery.

The immediate task facing Salah at Stamford Bridge will be replacing Juan Mata – who is expected to join Manchester United imminently. Previously those would have been rather large boots to fill, but perhaps not any more. The Spaniard has been ousted from the first team under Jose Mourinho, relegated to the bench, and has produced just two assists in 11 Premier League appearances.

Salah should not expect to immediately cement a place in the first team, but there is a sense that he offers certain qualities that Mata lacked. He is quicker than any player the Blues boast in their front line and, as Petr Cech will attest, has a knack for preying on the last man, darting in behind defenses and finishing with aplomb.

The former El Mokawloon winger, who won the Most Promising African Talent of the Year award in 2012, may not be as established or influential as Mata, but he brings a different, much-needed skill set to the club. The bests squads are not comprised of simply the best players, but need to offer variation and options – and in this respect Salah could even be more valuable than the man he will replace.

He's a natural wide man, unlike so many of Chelsea's attackers, capable of playing on either flank, and his pace will terrorize tired defenses on the counterattack. That speed and directness makes him a perfect weapon off the bench in a side that has occasionally required a spark of invention.

Mata's looming departure was brought about by a lack of suitability to Mourinho's high-pressing style of play, but Salah feels like a much more natural fit to that defensive tempo and application.

While Salah might have preferred the freedom Brendan Rodgers' expressive style would have afforded him at Anfield, he certainly won't be at odds with Chelsea's philosophy. Coming up against more established sides in Europe, he has been asked by manager Murat Yakin to track back, work hard and absorb pressure.

In fact, only two outfield players (Shakhtar's Darijo Srna and Porto's Fernando) have recovered possession more times in the Champions League this season than Salah's 44. Meanwhile, no Chelsea attacker has recorded more interceptions than Salah's six, while only Oscar (12) has more tackles than the Egyptian (7) – Mata, as testament to his lack of suitability, has zero.

Salah, then, is an entirely different type of threat to what Chelsea currently has at its disposal, yet he is also a good fit for the style of play promoted and demanded by Mourinho. The west Londoners may be losing a two-time Player of the Season, but in Salah they have an explosive, frighteningly quick replacement who could have a big role to play in the title race.

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