Elland Road witnessed Mohamed Salah join the century club last Sunday with the Egyptians winning goal becoming the 100th of his Premier League career. The majority of these came in the Red of his current team Liverpool and in the aftermath of becoming only the second African player to reach the milestone, let’s look back at his record-breaking first season on Merseyside.
The 17/18 season was crucial in how Liverpool would develop as a football club over the years that followed. Having secured Champions League football the previous year for the first time since 2014, this chapter in Fenway Sports Group’s project would see them either stagnate or join Europe’s elite.
Having added Sadio Mane the summer prior, Jurgen Klopp was looking to add another winger to his squad and had his heart set on Bayer Leverkusen’s Julian Brandt. The 21-year-old was coming off the back of an impressive season in the Bundesliga, with his age and versatility also being bonuses for the Liverpool manager.
The infamous story goes that Liverpool’s sporting director Michael Edwards pleaded with Klopp to sign Mohamed Salah, who their data identified as the solution to Liverpool’s problems. The Egyptian was turning heads in Italy and finished the 16/17 season with 15 goals and 11 assists in 31 games for Roma, guiding the Giallorossi to a 2nd place finish in Serie A.
Salah was seen as a Chelsea flop by the majority of Premier League fans, although it would only take one season for the winger to change that viewpoint. The 17/18 season saw Salah go from flop to record-breaker, all the way to the present day, where the Egyptian now stands as a Premier League icon.
Record-Breaking Premier League Campaign
Before Mohamed Salah knocked in his first goal at Vicarage Road in a 3-3 opening day thriller against Watford, the buzz around the Egyptian was already present amongst Liverpool fans following an impressive pre-season.
Salah had already scored four goals across the Reds summer tour and laid all his attributes out on the table for Liverpool fans to see. The fans knew the front trident was complete and fully sharpened going into an important Premier League campaign.
The Egyptian really announced himself and his intentions to the Anfield faithful and the top-flight in a 4-0 win over Arsenal in gameweek three, grabbing a goal and an assist. Salah’s pace caused the Gunner’s problems all game and he could have ended the afternoon with more if it wasn’t for Gunners keeper Petr Cech.
Salah was already on five goals scored from the opening nine games of the season, an impressive start that did not correlate with the team.
Liverpool won just three of those nine and were sat in ninth position: the ninth was a 4-1 thrashing by Tottenham Hotspur, which left the Reds seven points behind the North London side and 12 points off leaders Manchester City.
This defeat was seen as the turning point in Liverpool’s fortunes, as the Reds would thereafter lose very few games over the course of the season and beyond.
Between gameweek nine and New Year’s Day, Salah’s form was unmatched in the division. The Egyptian scored 12 goals and provided four assists in 12 matches, averaging a goal a game. Liverpool hadn’t lost since the Spurs defeat and were now fourth, four points ahead of the North London club.
Two games stand out throughout this run when discussing the importance of Salah to Liverpool in 2017/18: Stoke City away and Leicester City at home.
For those late to the party, the Stoke game was the day the penny well and truly dropped when it came to Liverpool fans realising what a special player they had on their hands. The Bet365 Stadium at the time was a notoriously difficult place to play and being just 1-0 up, Klopp brought on Salah to secure the win. In just 23 minutes, the winger grabbed a brace; the first of which was a thunderous volley.
The Leicester game saw Liverpool trail very early on after Jaime Vardy scored in the third minute, with Liverpool and Salah responding impeccably. The second half was the Salah show, with the Liverpool number 11 scoring a brace to give the Reds all three points. The Egyptian was unplayable, with both goals highlighting his world-class abilities and could have had a hat-trick if it wasn’t for some poor finishing.
As the clock ticked beyond midnight on 1st January 2018, Salah thankfully retained his powers. Throughout the rest of the PL campaign, the Egyptian played 15 games, scoring 15 goals, and assisting five.
The first game of which was against unbeaten leaders Man City, where the Reds ended Guardiola’s sides hopes of an ‘Invincible’ campaign in a thrilling 4-3 win. Salah once again caused a plethora of problems for Pep’s team, assisting Liverpool’s third and scoring the winner with a long-range chip.
The in-form attacker followed the City performance up by scoring six in seven, all leading up to the performance of the year against Watford.
Salah made Anfield his playground on a cold, snowy Merseyside day; as the Reds ran out 5-0 winners, with the Egyptian King, as he was known by then, scoring four and assisting the other. It was a masterclass by the Reds number 11, as he displayed his pace, power, movement, dribbling and finishing for the world to see.
Salah finished the campaign with 32 goals and 10 assists in 36 games, averaging a goal at an impressive rate of 0.89 per game. The 32 goals was a record-breaking tally in the Premier League, the most by any player in a 38 game season.
As for Liverpool, the goal of finishing in the top four was achieved as the Reds finished fourth five points ahead of Chelsea and a whopping 25 points behind centurion winners Man City.
Salah’s role in this was critical and the Egyptian was rewarded by receiving the PFA player of the year and the FWA player of the year awards for his endeavours.
The Road to Kyiv
Although Liverpool’s Premier League goal had been achieved, the joy and excitement throughout the season climaxed in the Champions League, as the Reds reached the final for the first time in 11 years.
Salah’s exceptional Premier League campaign coincided with an equally impressive campaign across the continent, as the winger bagged 10 goals and four assists in 13 games from the group stages onwards.
The campaign began awkwardly for Liverpool as the Reds drew both of their opening games against Sevilla and Spartak Moscow, with Salah scoring a deflected effort in the match against the Spanish side.
Jurgen Klopp’s men recovered with back-to-back wins over NK Maribor, with Liverpool’s number 11 scoring three and assisting another over both games against the Slovenian side.
Liverpool secured a place in the next round with a 7-0 hammering of Spartak Moscow, with Salah adding the last to an impressive display. The Egyptian ended the Group phase with five goals in six games, but the winger was only getting started.
Liverpool breezed past Porto relatively easy in the last 16 winning the first leg 5-0 in Portugal, before resting players in a scoreless draw at Anfield. Salah had grabbed a single goal throughout the tie, with Manchester City now waiting for Klopp’s men in the quarter-finals.
Anfield was a cauldron of noise on that April night, as the runaway Premier League leaders came to town in search of continuing their quest for a first European crown. Guardiola’s men were overwhelmed by Liverpool’s intensity and were blitzed within the first half an hour, after which Klopp’s men found themselves 3-0 up.
Similar to the 4-3 game in January, Salah caused City serious problems and opened the scoring for the Merseyside club, whilst also assisting the third for Sadio Mane. It was a testament to Salah’s abilities that over the course of the two games, a manager with the tactical know-how of Guardiola still could not find a way to contain the tricky winger.
The tie headed for Manchester with Liverpool essentially only needing to score one to advance. After an early goal from Gabriel Jesus and a first-half full of City pressure, there was only ever going to be one man who would secure that vital goal. The Egyptian ran onto a loose ball and took a touch before chipping the ball into the net, sending Liverpool through and the away end crazy.
Salah met an old friend in the semi-finals, as his former club Roma arrived on Merseyside – saving his best performance of the campaign for the occasion.
The former Roma man was unplayable, and his former teammates realised this early on. There was magic in the air and Salah looked menacing from the off and eventually opened the scoring with a thunderous top corner finish. Before they knew it, the Romans found themselves 4-0 behind, with their former man scoring another and assisting the other two.
It was a masterclass from Liverpool’s number 11, and it resulted in Liverpool reaching the final in Kyiv after withstanding a 4-2 comeback in the Italian capital.
It topped a remarkable season for Mohamed Salah: a fairy-tale beginning to life on Merseyside, with the absence of a fairy-tale ending.
Liverpool came up short in the final in Kyiv, losing 3-1 to Real Madrid after a decisive brace from Gareth Bale. For Salah, the match ended after half an hour, after a tussle with Sergio Ramos left the Egyptian exiting the field in tears with a shoulder injury.
The dream of helping the Reds win a sixth European vanished and the dream of playing at a first World Cup hung in the balance. An unfortunate end to a season we were all fortunate to witness.