How do you improve on an individual campaign in which you finish with the Golden Boot award for the most goals and the Playmaker award for the most assists?
That’s the challenge on Mo Salah’s plate for the 2022/23 season, but the signs are looking very good.
Despite his overall tally of 31 goals, his spark in the box very much dried up following the AFCON, in which he played 120 minutes for Egypt on four consecutive occasions.
Physically, he was obliterated towards the end of last term and it was very obvious in his performances. If he hadn’t have gone away mid-season with Egypt, he’d have likely got closer to 40 goals and perhaps have taken one of those chances in the Champions League Final defeat to Real Madrid, too.
Still, the sadness that filled our final matches in 2021/22 was evaporated by the parade and now there is only positivity regarding the new campaign.
Much of the focus has naturally been on Darwin Nunez, which is understandable given his enormous price-tag and his role as the team’s new offensive focal point, but it’s Salah who is without question Liverpool’s main man.
In pre-season he’s looked very, very sharp. Goals against Crystal Palace and Rb Leipzig don’t tell the whole story. He’s sprinting quickly and regularly, which stopped at the end of last term, and physically he looks in exceptional shape. Salah has muscles most humans don’t know exist.
The clips from Liverpool’s training sessions have shown the 30-year-old to be in a bullish and relentless mood.
Here he is below, giving poor Sepp van den Berg a runaround in a drill in which Salah scores all six of his efforts on goal:
— Liverpool FC (@LFC) July 23, 2022
But perhaps more important than his healthy body is his healthy mind. As we know, the contract saga dragged on throughout the entirety of last season and although both player and club will say it didn’t, it might have affected his form.
Throughout the summer, ever since he put pen to paper on whopping new terms (which would cheer anyone up) he’s looked a man with a weight off his shoulders.
Here he is giggling like a schoolboy at the Austrian training camp. He’s in his element:
There was always a suggestion that despite the fact they worked brilliantly on the pitch together, there was somewhat of a personal rivalry between Africa’s two best footballers, Salah and Sadio Mane, when the pair were at Liverpool together.
But with Mane leaving to Bayern Munich and Salah getting the contract he wanted, the club chose Mo.
Mane’s replacement Nunez has only just turned 23 and hasn’t achieved anything significant in football yet. And from what we’ve seen so far, Salah isn’t treating the Uruguayan as competition on a personal level. He even gave Nunez a penalty against Rb Leipzig, which set his new team-mate on the way to scoring four goals – all of which Salah celebrated with a huge smile.
At 30, he’s now one of the elder statesmen of the squad. A squad that is ushering in new young talent like Fabio Carvalho, Harvey Elliott, Nunez and Stefan Bajcetic, the 17-year-old who has shone this summer and announced himself as a genuine prospect. Salah has previously spoken about his desire to be part of the captain lineup – and perhaps he can prove himself worthy of a leadership role as well as a goalscoring one.
Below, you can see him teasing Curtis Jones about why he scores more than anyone else. Again, he’s as happy and relaxed as we’ve ever seen him:
Salah flexing his goals to Jones 😭😭 pic.twitter.com/cx2saNmYVa
— ²⁸ (@FabioRole) July 24, 2022
Salah’s manager Jurgen Klopp agrees that he’s physically and mentally in a terrific place.
“He looks like he always looks: sharp, top fit, full of desire for success and working extremely hard, coming back extremely fit,” he said.
“Mo is like this. I’m not sure Mo needs a pre-season, he could start the season immediately. He needs it for the rhythm and all these kind of things but not from a physical point of view. He just has a talent in this department but he is working extremely hard as well. So, I know Mo is very, very happy that we found an agreement. We were his club before he signed a new contract, now we are definitely his club and that feels pretty good.”
Another huge advantage is that Egypt haven’t qualified for the mid-season World Cup. It was a real blessing in disguise, from a Liverpool perspective, that Mane’s Senegal beat them in the Play-Off last term, considering Sadio ended up leaving.
While the world’s best players have a month of gruelling international football, he’ll effectively get another pre-season under Klopp – as will Luis Diaz, Joel Matip, James Milner, Joe Gomez, Roberto Firmino and other players who for different reasons either haven’t qualified or are not being picked by their countries.
Having watched every minute of Salah’s Liverpool career so far, I can confidently say that he’s better when he’s not trying too hard. When he’s not desperate to score or fighting for revenge. He’s at his exceptional best when he lets it come naturally, and it looks like his mindset ahead of the new campaign is absolutely perfect.
All systems go! pic.twitter.com/KKVcb3jWZU
— Mohamed Salah (@MoSalah) July 14, 2022