Sadio Mane might be an elite level footballer, one of the most potent players in the Premier League right now, but every Sunday league and five-a-side punter will have felt the frustration the Liverpool forward felt at Turf Moor on Saturday. There’s always that one teammate, that one ball-hogger who rather than passing attempts to take on everyone himself. For Liverpool, Mohamed Salah is that player.
Of course, Salah is also the player who has scored 57 times in just 88 Premier League appearances for the Anfield side, so the Egyptian somewhat gets away with such selfishness. But make no mistake, it is often a weakness in his game, as demonstrated by his performance against Burnley at the weekend and the reaction of Mane in being brought off.
Saturday certainly wasn’t the first time that Salah has been guilty of poor decision-making in refusing to play in his teammates. In fact, it has increasingly become a part of the Egyptian’s game over the past two seasons. Picking a hole in Salah’s recent performances might seem pedantic given how well he has played, but that hole represents his biggest weakness.
Of all the Liverpool players to play 90 minutes on Saturday, Salah made the fewest passes (30) while only Roberto Firmino attempted more shots than the 27-year-old. Selfishness is a trait possessed by most elite level forwards. Look at Cristiano Ronaldo and his irrepressible drive to score as many goals not just for his team, but for himself.
Salah has developed a similar single-mindedness since joining Liverpool and it is with this change of mindset that the Egyptian has become the match-winner he is today. He might play off the right wing, but Klopp has built his attack around Salah, with the former Chelsea and Roma man expected to deliver the goals to sustain a Premier League challenge.
But he can still lift himself to another level and improving on his decision-making would help him do this. Lionel Messi sets the precedent for an elite level forward possessing a streak of selfishness in front of goal while also appreciating his role in facilitating others. Indeed, the Argentine isn’t just one of the best goalscorers the sport has ever seen, but one of its greatest assist-makers and passers. With exceptional decision-making, he manages to balance both.
Salah hasn’t quite mastered this. For every turn, dribble and finish like the one pulled off against Arsenal two weeks ago, there is an overcooking of a goalscoring situation like the one witnessed at Turf Moor on Saturday. The wriggling run has become a hallmark of Salah, but it doesn’t always have to end with a shot on goal. Salah would do well to learn this.
Sunday’s incident was nothing of any real note at least in terms of Liverpool’s dressing-room dynamic. Klopp has forged a front three of different individual qualities, with Firmino, Mane and Salah all offering something different. The trio depend on each other and there are no hints of a genuine dressing-room rift despite Mane’s obvious frustrations at the weekend.
However, it did illustrate how Salah can still improve his game even further. The 27-year-old has become the Premier League’s brightest star over the past two seasons, giving Liverpool a goal threat only Luis Suarez and Fernando Torres have matched over the past two to three decades.
He is already an Anfield legend.
It is a mark of Salah’s greatness that he could still get better. All he needs is someone at Liverpool to sit him down and explain where his weaknesses lie, what the very best do that has still to learn in front of goal. Mane probably wouldn’t be the best person for that job.