Mohamed Salah didn't need the ball to create 2 goals vs Atletico Madrid


Mohamed Salah didn't need the ball to create 2 goals vs Atletico Madrid

Mohamed Salah didn’t have everything go his way in the first-half against Atletico Madrid on Wednesday evening. But the Egyptian still contributed to both of Liverpool’s goals.

If anyone deserves credit for Liverpool’s two first-half goals against Atletico Madrid, it’s Trent Alexander-Arnold. That much is obvious – he got both assists.

The first came from a wonderful whipped cross in behind that bounced perfectly for Diogo Jota to head home. The second was more up for debate.

Alexander-Arnold may have been shooting as he hit the ball into the box. Whatever he was doing, it fell perfectly for Sadio Mane to slot past Jan Oblak.

The 23-year-old thrived here, with Atletico failing to get near him. Mohamed Salah was a huge reason for that.

Mohamed Salah vs Atletico

Salah hasn’t just scored and assisted goals this season – he’s sacrificed his positioning for the team. The Egyptian plays far wider on the right than he has since his £34m arrival.

In fact, Salah frequently hugs the touchline like an old-school winger. Rather than getting crosses into the box, however, Salah does it to create room for teammates.

The 29-year-old is so dangerous right now that defenders must mark him. He drags left-backs all the way over, forcing gaps into opposition defences.

Both Jordan Henderson and Alexander-Arnold drifted into that space. They did so frequently against Atletico, with almost all of Liverpool’s play coming on that right-hand side.

Photo by OLI SCARFF/AFP via Getty Images

And with Atletico defenders focusing on Salah, they couldn’t also cover the underlapping duo. Alexander-Arnold had space to get the ball into the box as a result.

It’s a fine example of what Salah’s new positioning can do – and his reputation. Teams struggle badly to stop the ball from getting into the box. Their only real solution is to move defenders across and stop covering potential targets.

But that frees up those targets for the deliveries – something Sadio Mane is benefitting from this season.

With the ball, without the ball, Salah has an effect. This Liverpool team thrives with him in it and it’s hard to see him as anything other than the world’s most influential player right now.

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