Mohamed Salah’s stunning four-goal display in Liverpool’s 5-0 win over Watford at Anfield drew comparisons with Lionel Messi.
Even Jurgen Klopp refused to pour cold water on them, saying that Salah is “on his way” to being mentioned in the most exalted of company, while Steven Gerrard — one of the finest to ever pull on the famous Red shirt — gushed: “We are witnessing the start of greatness.”
Salah’s first and third were the kind of goals we’re used to seeing only Messi score. Given they occupy the same area of the pitch, are of similar height, build and are both left footed, comparisons are only natural. They are also misguided.
The Barcelona man is not only the best player on the planet, but many would say that he’s the greatest there has ever been.
Salah is a wonderful player in his own right but attempting to put him in the same bracket at Messi at this stage is akin to anointing a tennis player “the new Roger Federer” after one good year on the ATP Tour.
Salah is certainly the best “Messi tribute act” out there though, which in itself is quite the compliment. Some of the things he does and the goals he scores are undoubtedly Messi-like, but the Argentinian is the undisputed king of football and has been for the last decade (sorry Cristiano Ronaldo fans, but you know it’s true).
Salah is enjoying a phenomenal breakout season and he may even be in the Ballon d’Or conversation this year, alongside Messi. If Liverpool were to somehow triumph in the Champions League then he even could win it (as Liverpool’s cup treble in 2001 secured the award for Michael Owen), but as of now he’s probably a bit of a long shot.
A more apt discussion therefore is whether Salah will win the Premier League’s Footballer of the Year award. The next couple of months will go a long way towards deciding that but as of now he appears to be neck-and-neck in a two horse race with Manchester City’s Kevin De Bruyne.
Tottenham’s Harry Kane could still force himself into the reckoning if he recovers quickly from the injury that is sidelining him and if his goals were to secure the FA Cup for Spurs. Salah’s four-goal salvo last weekend opened up a significant gap between him and Kane in the race for the Golden Boot (he has 28 league goals to the Tottenham man’s 24) so the more interesting contest now is between Salah and De Bruyne as to who will be named Footballer of the Year.
Both are undoubtedly worthy but choosing between them is tough because it is not an apples to apples comparison. De Bruyne is an attacking player but his primary job is to create chances rather than take them. This puts him at something of a disadvantage when someone like Salah, who is not even a No.9, is scoring at an almost unprecedented rate.
De Bruyne has been phenomenal this season and is the brightest jewel in City’s glittering crown. Yet Salah has scored 36 goals in just 41 matches and in his scoring form, he might even be averaging a goal a game or more come the end of the season. Goals win games and goalscorers win the most headlines.
With Liverpool and City scheduled to meet in the Champions League quarterfinals that might go a long way toward settling the outcome. If De Bruyne pulls the strings as City progress to the semifinals that ought to be enough for him to secure the award. If Salah’s goals allow Liverpool to upset the odds then it would surely be impossible to overlook him.
Nobody, not even Klopp, had any idea that Salah could have made the kind of stunning impact he has. The signs were there in preseason but that was dismissed as “only preseason”. When the real action got under way Salah got off to a blistering start, but we were rightly told that it was “a good start, nothing more.” The real acid test would be whether he could sustain it. He has.
For eight months the Egyptian has kept scoring goals at a rate that few before him have managed. Liverpool have been blessed with countless great forwards over the years but Salah’s strike record compares favourably with any of them.
He’s closing in on 40 goals for the season and only two Liverpool players have ever reached that landmark before. Ian Rush hit 47 goals in 65 appearances in 1983-84 and then three years later found the net 40 times in 57 games.
Before that Roger Hunt tallied 42 goals from just 46 games in 1961-62, although that was in the old Second Division.
The 40 goal milestone is certainly within reach for Salah but he will be hard pressed to catch Rush. He is nine goals short of the mark set by the Welshman with a minimum of nine games to play.
If the Reds can get past City then they will have a further two games and hopefully even a third, so while it will be difficult it is not inconceivable that Salah could chase down Rush.
Should that happen then it would be the single greatest goalscoring season in club history, and perhaps even the greatest individual season by a Liverpool player full stop.
And he still wouldn’t be Lionel Messi.