Mohamed Salah's form for Liverpool will make Russia nervous ahead of 2018 World Cup clash with Egypt
Egypt forward's continued impact in Premier League could leave home team with a sense of foreboding when teams meet in June
Mohamed Salah tamed a snowy blizzard on Saturday and breezed past notable milestones.
There was his first hat-trick as Liverpool player, the three goals he put past Watford just part of his extraordinary display in hostile weather conditions at Anfield.
He scored a fourth, too, and set up a slick, nimble finish from Roberto Firmino that was sandwiched between Salah’s two right-footed strikes and his pair of left-footed goals.
Salah’s virtuoso evening took him clear at the head of the race for the Premier League’s top marksman, passing that hat-trick expert Harry Kane, whose anticipated recovery from an ankle injury has no firm date yet.
Kane, who has 24 goals as Tottenham Hotspur’s centre-forward may yet miss chances to catch up with the 28 Salah has now hit from his position on the right extreme of Liverpool’s front three.
Just over three-quarters of the way through his first season with Liverpool, Salah also overtook his previous best contribution for any employer, whipping past the impressive tally of 34 goals he recorded for Roma over two full seasons with the Serie A club. He has 36 across competitions now for Liverpool.
Once again, with the landmark of 40 in a season now imminent, English football is obliged to roll out a crimson carpet for a leading candidate for its player of the year, for the man who is certainly the most impressive new arrival in the Premier League from abroad since last June.
One has to wonder out loud how it is that the predatory instincts, and the breathtaking capacity for twisting past opponents, was so overlooked when Salah had his initial taste of English football, as a underused 21-year-old player at Chelsea in 2014.
Salah’s slaloms have become one of the defining features of a season in which, at the top end of the Premier League, levels of excellence have risen.
Manchester City have done most to elevate standards and Tottenham players have made their mark. But the verve of Liverpool in attack has at times been the envy of anybody else, including City.
Salah is now the flag-bearer for that, the last piece of the jigsaw in a front three whose other senior members, Sadio Mane and Firmino, had already been applying and combining their fortes – of pace and sixth-sense movement, respectively – for a season together.
“The boys love playing together with him and he loves playing with them,” Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp purred of Salah.
Liverpool are a rewarding club to be heroised at. Salah has felt the close warmth of the uniquely atmospheric Anfield, and evidently responded to the animated, often outwardly affectionate management of Klopp, who willingly followed the path offered to him by reporters this weekend of likening Salah in some aspects of his game to Lionel Messi.
Of course, the comparison is frivolous in terms of sustained influence on the sport. But there are echoes of Messi in Salah’s style and in his dexterity in confined spaces.
Saturday’s four-goal tally left bodies heaped in its wake – check out the number of Watford defenders left in vulnerable, toppled, seated or lying-down positions after he weaves his way towards his goals.
Poor Miguel Britos had been tortured most fiercely, although his pain was not inflicted by a footballer for whom teasing is relished for the sake of it. Television close-ups suggested Salah said an empathetic sorry to Watford goalkeeper Orestis Karnezis as they shook hands at the end of the rout.
That is in keeping with the exemplary way Salah has conducted himself in England, a reflection perhaps of the maturity he developed quickly as the lead actor in a suffering Egypt’s renaissance as a football nation in the past three or four years.
Salah guided the Pharaohs to their first World Cup since 1990 last October. His displays week in, week out will be watched with no greater interest and anxiety than in Russia. The host nation may very well find itself contesting a place in the second round of the World Cup with Egypt, who share their group.
Watched by a global audience come June, no Russian defender would want to be left sprawling helplessly on the ground by the most prolific scorer currently at work in the top level of league football.
Updated: March 18, 2018 08:05 PM