Jack Hallows gives his opinion on where Liverpool’s newest signing – Mohamed Salah – should fit into the Reds starting XI in 2017/18.
I love when we sign new players, especially talents like Mohamed Salah. The Egyptian hit some impressive highs last season, scoring 15 Serie A goals and assisting 11, putting him on an elite list of only 8 players to manage double figures for goals and assists in Europe’s top 5 leagues in 2016/17.
Had he hit those numbers in a Red shirt, he’d have outperformed every single one of our attacking players.
In fact, he’s outperformed each of our three current first choice attackers since the start of the 2015/16 season – albeit in a different league. Still, not bad aye?
— Empire of the Kop (@empireofthekop) June 21, 2017
So it begs the question, where does he fit in at Liverpool?
His pace, direct dribbling style, creativity and eye for goal – plus the small manner of commanding a price tag of £34m+ – means he most definitely will not be bench warming for the Reds.
However, with Sadio Mané so important across 2016/17, Philippe Coutinho being the club’s star player and Roberto Firmino practically the physical embodiment of a Jürgen Klopp team, where can we find a space for him?
The answer is simple and if you haven’t guessed it already, I’ll be very surprised. You move Coutinho to play in the middle.
The little Brazilian finished the 2016/17 season in dazzling fashion, operating on the left-hand side of a midfield diamond that also included Emre Can in the 6, Gini Wijnaldum as the right sided number 8 and Adam Lallana in the role behind the strike partnership.
In his deeper, central starting position, Coutinho had the entire field opened up to him and was able to get on the ball more often, starting attacks quickly without sacrificing one of the forwards.
It meant he no longer had to drop out of his starting position to get on the ball and was able to utilise his full range of passing, complete more take-ons and burst into the box in a similar manner that Adam Lallana was so good at doing during the first half of the season.
Klopp has spoken of the want to use Coutinho in the central role more often across the next campaign and while at first I had my reservations, I’ve most certainly been converted by his performances against West Ham and Middlesbrough.
His central starting position would also allow him more of a chance to link up with countryman Roberto Firmino in central areas, drawing defenders out of the game and unleashing the pace of Mané and Salah as they cut in from the wider areas.
Of course, this does then beg the question of midfield balance. If Coutinho is going to play a part as one of the midfield trio, who misses out? It’s practically a given that one of Emre Can or Jordan Henderson will play in the ‘6’ role, with which one is picked likely depending on the needs of individual opponents. If it’s athleticism, organisation and dynamism you need, then Henderson starts but if it’s a physical, battling presence that’s required, then in steps Can.
So, Wijnaldum or Lallana? Once again, it depends on the situation. If the Reds come up against sides that want to sit deep and play a low block then for me, Lallana starts. His quick feet, creativity and ability to recycle possession quickly all while pressing ferociously but intelligently for 90 minutes are all key to the Reds performing well against deep-lying defences.
However, Wijnaldum is a big game player and for me, when we come up against the big boys, I wouldn’t be surprised to see the Dutchman get the nod.
His knack for scoring key goals at Anfield – City, Chelsea, Arsenal and of course, Middlesbrough on the final day – was huge for the Reds last season and his personal goals and assists alone were admittedly worth a total of 12 points in key games*.
He also possesses superior strength and physicality to Lallana but with both players offering something different, it’s a good problem for Klopp to have.
This leaves one final question relating to Salah himself. Left or right wing?
Personally, I’d love to see him play on the right hand side, with Sadio Mané shifted over to the left. The Liverpool ECHO published a great interview yesterday with Egyptian journalist Marwan Ahmed who was adamant that Salah should play “right wing. That’s his best position!” This is down to his “practically non-existent,” right foot and his preference for cutting inside onto his left, unleashing lethal finishes from inside the box.
Some will of course argue that Mané had a superb season playing on the right in 2016/17 but the Senegalese is more than good enough to play on the left and has done so effectively at former club Red Bull Salzburg, playing 50 games from the left wing in 2013/14 – he scored 23 goals.
There is also the fact that starting position is of very little importance to Jürgen Klopp’s 4-3-3 system that relies on fluidity, interchangeable movement and working in combinations rather than just sticking to positions on a pitch.
So, there you have it, my Liverpool starting XI with the addition of Mohamed Salah – of course, I’m not taking into account any other potential new signings because none have been confirmed as of the time of typing up this article.
Let Jack know in the comments section below, where does Mohamed Salah fit in your Liverpool starting XI for 2017/18?