Premier League 2018/19: What's wrong with Mohamed Salah?
If Liverpool's draw away from home against Everton can be summed up in a single photo, it has to be the one of Mohamed Salah wincing in agony as the ball gets away from him after his first touch, looking to the heavens for divine intervention. And it wouldn't have been a hard image to click because it happened to be par for the course at Goodison Park.
From a position of power, and a handy 7 point lead over Manchester City at one point - not to mention the fact that the Reds looked like Champions elect - Liverpool have slowly, but surely, lost the plot. While a 1 point deficit is not the end of the world, the way in which they have gotten there is sure to send the sirens blaring across their faithful. And smack dab in the middle of all that lies a certain curly-haired Egyptian.
Before we get on with it, acknowledgment where acknowledgment is due - Mohamed Salah is still a terrific footballer. He has not gone the way of Alexis Sanchez. Yet. But after that unbelievable season, it was only a matter of time before the gods of probability caught up with him.
The biggest concern with Salah this season in the PL has to be his disappearing acts against big teams, particularly the Top-6 sides. In 8 games (with games against Chelsea and Spurs yet to be played), Salah has a meager 1 goal and 1 assist to his name, both of them coming in the 5-1 thrashing of Arsenal - which means 7 games of producing nothing.
While his side has managed to win 3 of those games without his contribution, drawing 4 other games and losing one, it is a cause of major concern when the talisman of the team isn't performing.
If the list is extended to include the teams in the top half of the table - Wolves, Watford, West Ham United and Everton, the story doesn't get any better. In 7 games against these sides, Salah has 3 goals and an assist, with 4 blanks to his name. The fact that he has failed to bother Liverpool's derby opponents this year will be what fans regret the most.
So, it is no question that Salah's effectiveness this season has been considerably lower than it was last season. Why?
The answer stems from a lot of factors.
First up is the easiest one to accept - pressure. After a debut season with Liverpool that threatened to blow everyone out of the water, he walked into the season with enormous expectations on his shoulders. It was evident from the initial few games that the pressure had gotten to him, as he tried to do too much and ended up complicating things for himself.
After a period towards the end of 2018 - 6 goals in 5 games including a hat-trick against Bournemouth - where it looked like he was back to his old self again, the productivity has dried up once more. And with the goals, the confidence has dried up as well. How else can you explain the one-on-one he missed against Pickford that he would have scored 9 out of 10 times in the past?
Another major factor is the lack of creativity from the midfield that was a resounding part of his success last season. With Philippe Coutinho spearheading the first half of the season, and the rest of the team in fine form for the rest, all Salah had to do was score.
Now, with Firmino, Shaqiri and Mane woefully out of form when they are fit enough to play, a midfield devoid of any creativity except for the occasional long ball from Henderson, Salah is repeatedly forced to fall back and get involved with the build-up. For a player whose biggest strength is his blistering pace off the blocks, that is a bad deal.
Despite all this, Salah has 17 goals so far this season, just one behind City's talismanic Sergio Aguero. But the goals haven't come when they should have, or against opponents the team would have liked. Compare this to last season, when he had 7 goals and 2 assists in the 10 games against the Top-6, and it is shocking just how different Salah has been this season.
If Liverpool are to take back the PL trophy, and it looks harder with every passing gameweek, it is of utmost importance that Salah finds his shooting boots as quickly as possible. With the media scrutinizing every move, and the world collectively waiting with bated breath for Liverpool to slip once more, it would be the mark of a champion if he manages to.