Pep Guardiola must feel as though there is sometimes no respite as Manchester City manager. Five days after seeing Lionel Messi consign his team to defeat against Paris Saint-Germain in the Champions League, he must now prepare to face Liverpool’s Mohamed Salah in a game that could ultimately prove key to this season’s Premier League title race.
Having spent all summer trying — and failing — to sign Harry Kane from Tottenham, you only need to take a brief glimpse at Salah’s strike-rate and balletic movement to suggest that the Egypt international may have been the perfect solution to Guardiola’s search for a prolific forward to replace Sergio Aguero. Perfect, that is, until you realise that the prospects of Liverpool even contemplating offloading Salah to their closest rivals in recent years are as unlikely as Sunday’s Anfield encounter ending up as an uneventful goalless draw.
There is certainly something about the sight of a City shirt that brings out the very best in the former Chelsea forward. Salah has scored six goals against Guardiola’s team since arriving at Liverpool from AS Roma in 2017, one more than Messi has managed against his old Barcelona manager’s side. In fact, only Leicester’s Jamie Vardy (9) and Tottenham’s Son Heung-min (7) have scored more goals against them than Salah.
Whichever way you assess the 29-year-old and his impact during his four years at Anfield, the numbers are staggering and his importance to Jurgen Klopp’s side is why there will be concern among the supporters and his Liverpool teammates until he ends uncertainty over his future by signing a new contract to replace his existing deal, which expires in June 2023.
By scoring at Leeds last month, Salah became the fifth-quickest player to hit 100 Premier League goals, reaching the milestone in his 162nd appearance. He now stands on 102 following further goals against Crystal Palace and Brentford. Yet if you focus solely on his Liverpool output and discount the two goals in 13 games he scored for Chelsea during a difficult 12 months at Stamford Bridge — he also spent a further 18 months on loan at Fiorentina and Roma — Salah has scored 100 goals in 151 appearances for Klopp’s team, a ratio that betters the 160 games it took Thierry Henry to score 100 for Arsenal.
Alan Shearer (124 games), Kane (141) and Aguero (147) are the top three fastest to 100 Premier League goals, but Salah’s record bears comparing to all three because, unlike that stellar trio of centre-forwards, he is first and foremost a wide player.
Salah goes into Sunday’s Anfield clash against City with eight goals in eight games in all competitions this season, but the only cloud on his horizon is the unresolved contractual situation. It is the off-field numbers — the financial ones — that may see those contract negotiations drag on longer than anyone at Anfield would like, but in terms of what he contributes in front of goal, Salah has now entered the territory occupied by the Premier League’s all-time greats.
Salah has won as many Premier League titles as Shearer and has done what neither Aguero or Henry were able to do by winning a Champions League with Liverpool. While Kane has an incredible record for Tottenham, none of his goals have yet delivered a trophy of any description.
Didier Drogba won everything worth winning with Chelsea and scored 104 Premier League goals during his nine seasons at the club, while Wayne Rooney was also a multiple winner, domestically and in Europe, with Manchester United. Rooney is the only player other than Shearer to score more than 200 Premier League goals — Rooney ended with 208. But while Drogba and Rooney were key figures in the successes enjoyed by their clubs, neither had the same talismanic hold over their team as Salah does with Liverpool. When Salah is in full flow, Liverpool are often unstoppable, and he’s now held in the same level of esteem of previous Anfield greats such as Kenny Dalglish, Robbie Fowler, Steven Gerrard and Luis Suarez.
Salah’s refusal in the past to play down speculation linking him with a move to Real Madrid, Barcelona or PSG has done little to damage his standing at Liverpool, but there would be an enormous sense of relief in and around the club if he could be secured to a new contract that would realistically keep him at Anfield for the rest of his top-level career.
At 29, he clearly has ample time ahead of him to win more trophies, pass more milestones and eclipse the other Premier League icons who have gone before him. And if Salah can deliver another match-winning performance on Sunday, it will leave Liverpool in pole position to win another league title this season.