How is Mo Salah’s season in comparison to those of his predecessors?
There’s absolutely no question that Salah’s production this season has been excellent. He’s netted 40 goals in all competitions – the highest goal tally since the Premier League went to a 50-game season in 2011-12 (Sol Campbell netted 44 in that same campaign).
However, his amazing scoring form only scratches the surface when you think about what Salah has been able to achieve with much less. Where and when have goals piled up for other forwards? Obviously, taking games from possession is one of the keys to being a good forward in English football, and when teams have been able to do so there have often been goals to follow. These goals just don’t come that often for Salah.
The title of the most underrated footballer in English football belongs to Luis Suarez, who netted 44 in that 2011-12 season. Equally, there is no doubt that Cesc Fabregas, currently appearing for Arsenal, is in that category too. Even Spurs’ Gareth Bale is seen in the same bracket when it comes to being underrated.
Salah himself is not at this level.
The biggest part of Salah’s attacking game is his ability to beat defenders. He does not do this with the same slant as his predecessors, but he is a disciplined forward with great finishing prowess. His role is to target the boxes and score the goals. His statistics bear this out: Salah has assisted more goals than all of Salah’s peers, including Roberto Firmino and Harry Kane, and has netted five times more goals than Firmino and five more than Dele Alli.
However, he is only picked out for his ability in scoring goals. The rest of his statistics speak for themselves. Salah will be second in scoring goals in the Champions League, trailing only Sergio Aguero. In fact, he is already bested by Aguero in this competition. His goals tally – 39 in 53 games in all competitions – is almost five goals more than Giroud’s tally in the same period. Salah’s goals-per-game ratio is slightly more than when Arsenal were in the top four under Arsene Wenger – Giroud scored two goals in each of the two months in 2013 that they were in the Champions League – and more than when both Salah and Giroud were at Chelsea.
So it’s clear that Mo Salah’s lack of praise in comparison to his predecessors has to do with not merely his scoring records, but the many different facets of his game that make him such a good forward. His seemingly effortless skill in hitting the back of the net is almost irrelevant when you see the attention to other aspects of his game that he has excelled in.
Mesut Ozil is one such example. He is Arsenal’s player of the year and score 11 goals in the Premier League this season, but after so many years of comparisons with Emmanuel Adebayor, goals will always be remembered. What about other aspects of Ozil’s game, however? What about his leadership qualities, his work rate and ability to defend? I would argue that his style of play is so similar to Salah’s that Ozil is probably the closest comparison the Egyptian has in the Premier League.
Of course, they are both attacking midfielders who pick up the ball from midfield with a purpose, but in terms of his ability to break into the box, Ozil is no comparison to the Egyptian. Their games are so different.
Abdelkader Ghezzal is an Algerian striker, but he’s probably the closest comparison to Salah as an attacking midfielder. His record, in terms of goals, is also similar to Salah’s. But Ghezzal is not nearly as hard working as the Egyptian. He’s unlikely to try to break into the box and exert a similar amount of pressure in his own box, but he does that at the other end of the pitch to great effect, too.
The name of Mohamed Salah might not be immediately top of the list for strikers in the Premier League, but that doesn’t necessarily mean his pace and finishing skills are less important than those of his predecessors. His play in a box has been lauded far more frequently than he deserves, but it’s important to remember all of the other aspects of his game that make him a far superior attacking forward than his predecessors.