More Salah? No sign of Liverpool forward slowing down
Mohamed Salah had just finished the season as the Premier League's top scorer and been presented with the Golden Boot at Anfield when he was asked if he would replicate his record-breaking exploits.
Speaking on the field to Liverpool's adoring crowd, Salah said with a smile: "I will, don't worry."
It was a confident answer from a player who, in his first full season in English soccer, had scored more goals — 32 — in a 38-game Premier League campaign than any other player, surpassing the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo, Luis Suarez and Alan Shearer.
Two games into the new season and there's no sign of the Egyptian slowing down.
It took him only 19 minutes to score his first goal, Liverpool's opener in its 4-0 win over West Ham at Anfield. As he tapped in from close range at the back post off Andrew Robertson's cross, a wide grin spread across Salah's face and it all felt very familiar.
Even in what could be described as a below-par display from Salah in his second game, he still won a penalty, set up the second goal and was fouled just outside the area when clean through on goal in a 2-0 victory over Crystal Palace. Having also missed a one-on-one chance in the first half, Salah could easily have walked away from Selhurst Park with two goals.
Brighton is the next opponent — or should it be victim? — of Salah on Saturday, the same team that was ripped apart by Liverpool in a 4-0 loss on the final day of last season and whose away record is poor. It would be a surprise if Salah wasn't among the scorers.
Still, is it asking too much of Salah to repeat or even exceed last season's goal tally?
Opposition coaches and defenders have had a season to work him out and he will surely be more of a target. He isn't on penalties — James Milner took and converted the spot kick won by Salah against Palace, while Sadio Mane assumed penalty duties in preseason. Switzerland forward Xherdan Shaqiri was signed in the offseason, giving Liverpool manager Juergen Klopp a great option to rotate his explosive forward line of Salah, Mane and Roberto Firmino.
There's the form of Mane, who has outscored Salah 3-1 so far and might just blossom after being overshadowed by Salah and Firmino last season.
And then there's the question about whether last season was simply an anomaly for Salah. In his previous two full seasons, at Italian club Roma, he scored 14 goals in 34 league games in 2015-16 and then 15 in 31 in 2016-17.
For Liverpool last season, Salah scored 32 goals in 36 league games and 44 goals in all competitions.
"Of course for him and his club, people will keep cranking up expectations," Palace manager Roy Hodgson said of Salah before the game against Liverpool, "and that's not a great thing to have to deal with either for the player or the club."
Harry Kane wasted no time in laying down a challenge to Salah. Last season hadn't even finished when the Tottenham striker, the Premier League's top scorer the previous two seasons, said he had proved he had the consistency to challenge for the Golden Boot year after year and that the same question will be asked of Salah.
"That's what defines a good player from a great player," said Kane, who has netted 25, 29 and then 30 goals in the last three seasons. "He (Salah) has done amazing this year and he looks like a great player and we'll see if we can both continue it next season."
Salah, though, doesn't seem to be a player who gets affected by pressure — just think of the expectations on him every time he plays for Egypt, where he is regarded as a sporting icon. Liverpool has also strengthened its squad during the offseason, making the team an even bigger contender for the Premier League title and its goal output likely even stronger.
They've already scored six goals in two games and Klopp's emphasis will always be to attack.
Opponents will be underestimating Salah at their peril.
Steve Douglas is at www.twitter.com/sdouglas80