Mohamed Salah x Darwin Nuñez dynamic has shades of old Roma partnership

Mohamed Salah has 144 Premier League goals for Liverpool in just 227 appearances for the Reds.

If we include all competitions, he’s on 194 goals in 316 outings. The 31-year-old is a three-time Golden Boot winner and in his six full seasons with the Merseyside club, he’s averaged 23 goals in the English top-flight.

He has been the definition of a reliable goal threat since returning to the Premier League in 2017.

His double against Everton on Saturday afternoon took his tally to seven for the 2023/24 campaign, a figure only Erling Haaland can better (nine).

Yet there was a time during his career when many doubted his goalscoring ability.

When turning out for FC Basel, Salah was a scattergun in front of goal. Speaking to LFC Stories back in 2019, Oliver Zesiger, a Swiss researcher for Football Manager, had his say on the Liverpool number 11.

“He missed chances left, right and centre. He lacked composure and his now-famous finishing ability. I remember one game specifically. It was in the Europa League against Zenit. He could've scored five but his finishing let him down time and time again. However, he still assisted on both Basel goals as the Swiss side managed to eliminate the Russians. But jokes were still flying around. ‘He couldn't hit a pyramid with his shot’ was something I've heard many times.”

Salah was fairly erratic early on in his career. He scored 20 goals for the Swiss giants across 79 appearances. It wasn’t until his move to Fiorentina that he found consistency as a goalscorer. During his season on loan in Florence, he was used on either side of a front three tasked with drifting inside to support the more traditional centre-forward in Mario Gomez or Alberto Gilardino. He would regularly trade passes with the number nine in and around the area as he began to find himself in more dangerous areas on a regular basis.

This continued after his move to Roma. He struck up an understanding with Edin Dzeko, scoring 29 Serie A goals across 65 appearances.

The former Manchester City attacker was a real handful during his time in the Italian capital. During the 2016/17 campaign, he scored 29 goals in the Italian top-flight, chipping in with a further nine assists. Salah finished with 15 goals and 11 assists, in what turned out to be his final season in Italy.

The pair regularly combined to create chances and goals.

Dzeko would often drop off from a centre-back to receive a pass while Salah made a run in behind. The one-time Inter forward, who was deceptively good on the ball, would then thread passes into the path of his teammate.

An example of this can be seen above and below.

It was a similar sort of play each time. Dzeko would occupy a centre-back or two and this would give Salah the opportunity to exploit the space in behind.

Now obviously Salah had a good understanding with Roberto Firmino too but that dynamic was different. The Egypt captain was the primary goal threat while the Brazilian was more of a creator. When the former Chelsea man was at Fiorentina and Roma, he was a secondary goal threat paired with a more traditional number nine.

We’re kind of seeing this now with Salah and Darwin Nuñez.

Since joining the Reds, Darwin has eight assists to his name. Of those, six have come in the Premier League, one was in the Carabao Cup and the other was in the Europa League. Remarkably, he’s assisted Salah on all eight occasions.

The Liverpool number nine engages defenders in a different way to Firmino. He’s a genuine goal threat and this creates opportunities that wouldn’t have necessarily presented themselves when Firmino was in the team. The way Darwin is influences the way teams defend.

Against Spurs last season, the centre-back steps up thinking the former Benfica man is going to shoot having managed to turn on the ball. This creates space for Salah and he’s able to fire home once the pass is played to him.

Against Manchester City, the goalkeeper takes up a fairly aggressive position thinking Darwin is going to look to curl the ball into the far corner having powered past the City defender on the outside.

He doesn’t though. Instead, he rolls a pass to Salah who makes the most of an empty net.

Darwin attacks the space. Now Salah just has to find it.

It is a different dynamic entirely but it is just as effective.

The number nine isn’t as static as Dzeko or as technically sound as Firmino, but he’s a creator in his own way and Salah, who has adapted his game throughout his career, has found a way to ensure he’s still amongst the goals despite not being the primary goal threat he once was for the Reds.

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