In Focus: Klopp needs Mo from Salah after slow start
Mohamed Salah delighted Liverpool fans when he committed his future to the club this summer — but his 2022-23 season is yet to catch fire.
The reigning Premier League Golden Boot winner has netted only twice in six games so far, with the Reds also struggling with just nine points on the board, five fewer than at this point last term.
Egyptian superstar Salah has not looked his usual self and drew another blank last Saturday as Jurgen Klopp's outfit were held to a goalless draw at Everton.
As he looks to return to form in the Champions League against Napoli tonight, we turn the spotlight on the misfiring forward’s slow start.
Though two goals and two assists in six games is hardly alarming form, the exceptional standards Salah has set previously means his start to the campaign is a talking point.
And with Liverpool themselves not looking the formidable machine they were last term, attention naturally turns to the side’s talisman.
Just two wins, three draws and a defeat is their worst ever start to a season under Klopp.
And Salah — a key man for the German for a large part of his reign — has so far struggled to influence games in the same way he usually does.
That is shown by the 47.76 touches and 0.83 shots on target he has averaged per 90 minutes this term, down from 55.97 and 1.96 in 2021-22.
Resting on his laurels?
Salah’s long contract stand-off with the club was finally brought to an end in July when he penned a three-year deal to remain at Anfield.
Liverpool’s supposed reluctance to pander to the 30-year-old’s high wage demands was thought the be the reason the saga was drawn out for so long.
Eventually though, it was a deal Liverpool felt they had to get done, particularly with forward partner Sadio Mane departing for Bayern Munich the month prior.
Reds legend Graeme Souness told Sky Sports: "I’m looking at Salah for Liverpool against Manchester United and in the first five minutes [Lisandro] Martinez goes right through him.
"The rest of the game, Salah looked for Martinez and looked for where he was. I’ve not seen the same Salah since.
"I just hope, and he’s signed the big contract he wanted, but at this level if you knock off half a per cent, or one per cent, then you are not the same player.
"I hope this is not him getting semi into his armchair because he has signed a big contract.
"I’m saying that as a Liverpool supporter, hopefully to make him angry and prove me wrong."
It has, of course, been a summer of change at Anfield with the Liverpool team of this campaign already looking very different to the one that chased an unprecedented Quadruple last season.
Mane’s exit for a new challenge elsewhere was a blow to Klopp and sparked him into the process of rebuilding his side.
That saw Darwin Nunez brought in for £64million from Benfica, but the Uruguayan is more suited to the traditional No9 role than the wide forward position perfected by Mane, necessitating a shift in style.
And with the 23-year-old striker already missing three games through suspension, his on-field relationship with Salah is still in its infancy.
So too is the partnership with Harvey Elliott, 19, on the right of midfield, while January signing Luis Diaz on the left wing is still a relatively new addition.
A wider role
There are claims that the reshuffling Klopp is putting into process has forced Salah to play a different role, with more focus on creativity.
But the Reds boss has rejected the notion that the former Chelsea and Roma man is having to play wider to suit the new faces in the team.
After the Toffees stalemate, Klopp said: "I am not sure what you are seeing, he is not out wide any more than in other seasons.
"We want to have Mo there in this position but we want to have Mo more often in central positions as well."
But a look at his heat map this term notably shows he may be starting to evolve his game.
He is spending more time on the flanks, decreasing from 10.99 touches in the opposition box per 90 last season to 9.17 during the current campaign.
The speedster has also created four chances per 90 so far this season, a significant increase on the 2.05 he was contributing each match in 2021-22.
Time will tell
If it is to be a transitional season at Anfield, then we remain in the early days of seeing what this Liverpool team — and Salah’s role within it — will change into.
That, coupled with the emotional effects of a frantic 2021-22 campaign, means he is likely to need time to get back to his best.
A start against Napoli tonight seems likely as Klopp looks to play his star attacker into form.
Salah will be desperate to rediscover his goalscoring touch to silence claims of a drop off since his new deal.
But against Luciano Spalletti's unbeaten side, Salah and his team-mates will face a stern test.