No goals in seven games: What’s up with Mo Salah?

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The Egyptian has struggled to reach peak performance levels in recent matches but it would be foolish to write him off ahead of the title run-in

In an ordinary universe, a footballer with 20 goals and eight assists before the end of March, particularly one who isn't a pure centre forward, would be having a career-defining season.

For Mohamed Salah, though, 2018-19 has been an adjustment to life as the Premier League's most marked man, and he's been struggling to cope with the burden, particularly in recent weeks.

A monumental December for both Salah, who scored seven and made four more, and Liverpool, whose total of seven league wins was the most they'd ever recorded in a single month in their history, brought a progressive 2018 for the club to a close.

It's fair to say 2019 has been more of a struggle.

While the Reds have hung on in there in the title race, Salah’s last goal came in early February against a Bournemouth team who are invariably generous to Jurgen Klopp's side whenever they face them. Indeed, the Egyptian scored a hat-trick against them earlier in the campaign.

Publicly, Salah and Klopp are not worried - the Liverpool manager contrasting the former Chelsea winger with Sadio Mane after the Senegalese forward scored in the club’s last game against Fulham.

"That's exactly what Mo has to do, exactly the same, just work, do the right things and it will come again. He's just rather unlucky," the German remarked.  

But is he unlucky, or is he suffering a bad case of what, in Liverpool terms, can be known as Steven Gerrard-itis - that inexplicably desperate performance from the club’s former captain as he slipped and allowed Demba Ba to score for Chelsea in April 2014.


Salah in 2018-19


Month Goals xG Assists xA
August 2 2.44 1 0.76
September 1 2.78 0 0.69
October 4 2.81 2 0.89
November 2 1.93 0 0.65
December 7 4.88 4 3.53
January 3 2.97 0 0.57
February 1 1.51 0 0.78
March 0 1.32 1 0.94

With Liverpool’s title ambitions disappearing from view, a frantic Gerrard took the weight of responsibility onto his own shoulders and proceeded to have eight shots from an average distance of 27 yards. You don’t need to be a professor at the University of Expected Goals to know that he might have been better off passing.

Salah, in the blue of Chelsea, was less than 20 yards away from Gerrard when he slipped at Anfield that day but, if recent displays are any guide, he failed to absorb the lesson.

At Fulham, the 26-year-old had five shots, with only a late effort from the left-hand side of the penalty area that you could categorise as a decent chance. The rest were speculative.

Salah's shot map for March shows a definite lack of offensive action on the left side of the box, a location he got much joy from last season and in the first half of 2018-19.

Mohamed Salah Shot MapKey: Blue = total shots | Yellow = goals | Circle size relative to xG value/chance of scoring

Liverpool's opponents were always going to adapt this season to try and stem Salah’s influence and while he's evidently not a one-season wonder, it feels as though he needs to relax and wait for the goals to come, rather than forcing it.

In his last appearance at Anfield against Burnley he hit five shots with only one on target and a total xG value of only 0.2. His efforts at Bayern in the Champions League were similarly thwarted but his outside-of-the-foot pass for Mane’s second goal was a flash of genius.

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And the Senegal star’s recent hot streak is not only down to his own burgeoning ability but also reliant on both the creativity of Salah and the attention of opponents that the Egyptian draws. Indeed, of the celebrated front three at Liverpool, the one who really has struggled this season is Roberto Firmino - it seems a back catalogue of no-look goals will buy you a lot of goodwill in fallow times.

Salah’s record of three goals in four Premier League games against Tottenham is his second-best tally against a 'big-six' team and everything suggests that he will get chances against them on Sunday. It’s just down to him what he does with them.

Don’t write off Mo just yet.

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