Sam McGuire: Crunch Salah decision looming for new Liverpool decision-makers

Mohamed Salah is a bit of a conundrum for Liverpool. 

The three-time Golden Boot winner returned from his first real injury lay-off last month and though he appeared to hit the ground running with three goals and three assists in his first three starts, he’s found the back of the net on just one occasion in his last four outings as Liverpool’s season took an abrupt turn. 

That goal arrived in the 2-2 draw with Manchester United and came via the penalty spot. The Reds led the way in the race for the title prior to their second visit to Old Trafford in the space of a month but now find themselves two points off of leaders Manchester City after a disappointing week.  

Jurgen Klopp’s men dropped points against the Red Devils, and were humbled at Anfield by Atalanta in a 3-0 loss in the first leg of the Europa League before losing to Crystal Palace in the Premier League. 

Liverpool have been wasteful in their last three games. In fact, they’ve been wasteful for a while now. However, over the past week, their lacklustre finishing has come back to haunt them

Darwin Nunez is shouldering a lot of the blame having missed several chances. The big chance he missed against the Eagles was his 25th of the Premier League campaign, a haul that sees him rank second after Erling Haaland (30). 

No other players in the English top flight have missed more than 20 big chances. 

Liverpool's faltering finishers

The No.9 missed what many believe to have been a gilt-edged chance against Palace when he fired an effort from close range straight at Dean Henderson. Jamie Carragher, on commentary for Sky Sports, declared the former Benfica man should’ve scored but he’s done everything right in that situation. He’s reacted quickest to a knockdown and kept his effort low. Palace players were closing in so it wasn’t as though he had time to pick his corner. 

It was just a snapshot of Darwin’s season. 

Others have benefitted from his misses. The attention has been solely on the 2022 summer signing when others have been just as wasteful. One of those players is Salah. 

For the second successive Premier League match, the No.11 missed a big chance in a game that Liverpool dropped points in. Against Palace, he was a little unlucky as his close range effort was blocked as it looked destined to beat Henderson. But other players aren’t allowed to use bad luck as an excuse. 

Mohamed Salah Liverpool

Mo Salah underperformed his xG by 0.33 against Manchester United on Sunday.

He’s now on 13 big chances missed this season. Now, attackers are allowed to miss chances. It happens to the very best. But Salah is paid the biggest of big money to deliver in big moments for the Reds. And he’s not done that over the past week as Liverpool’s title challenge has stalled

Again, this isn’t solely his fault. Others have also fluffed their lines. But Salah is the talisman for this attack. The 31-year-old is a game-changer and a match-winner.  He has been since returning to the Premier League following a stint in Italy. 

This run of erratic form in the penalty area has come at a poor time for the soon-to-be 32-year-old. At the end of the current season, he’s into the final 12 months of his deal. On paper, a renewal seems like a no-brainer.  

He leads the way for goals and assists.  

There’s still a possibility he adds a fourth Golden Boot to his collection while also claiming the award for the most assists in the English top flight. Incredible, when you consider he’s missed so much football this season. 

Liverpool's Salah Saudi decision

But his performances since returning from injury have painted a picture of a player whose powers are now waning. He isn’t beating players in one-on-one situations. He is spurning chances and no longer looks to be the Salah of yesteryear. He might just be a little rusty after a stint on the sidelines but this could also be the beginning of the end. Father Time might’ve finally caught up to him after playing so much football over recent years. 

The same thing happened to Sadio Mane, Roberto Firmino, Gini Wijnaldum, and even Fabinho. 

Salah is the highest-paid player at the club and he’s unlikely to accept a pay-cut on what could potentially be his last big deal. So it puts Liverpool in an awkward position. What he’s done cannot be used as a predictor for what he might do over the next few years, so the goals and assists are, to put it bluntly, irrelevant. The Reds need to assess the now,  as well as his physical metrics. If those are trending downwards, there’s no point extending his stay on Merseyside

Michael Edwards, and by extension, new sporting director Richard Hughes, won’t let sentiment shape decision-making going forward. Had the current set-up remained, Klopp might’ve been persuaded to reward one of his most impactful players. But, for the new management team, decisions will be based on business. 

With the Saudi Pro League wanting to make him the poster boy of their project, Salah could be moved on this summer. Those making that decision are in an unenviable position as this could prove to be a costly mistake either way.

But, the truth is, Salah hasn’t been impactful during this key phase of the season when the Reds have needed him most, and that is a concern. One that cannot be ignored.

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