Arsenal defender Oleksandr Zinchenko has named Liverpool’s Mohamed Salah as his toughest ever opponent.

Zinchenko has had a fair few battles with Salah over the years, both at Manchester City and now with Arsenal. Primarily playing as a left-back, the Ukrainian has often been directly pitted against Mo.

So, when Rio Ferdinand asked him to name the most difficult player he’s ever faced on his FIVE YouTube channel, Zinchenko’s answer perhaps wasn’t surprising.

Oleksandr Zinchenko
Photo by Marc Atkins/Getty Images

“I think it’s Salah, I think it’s Salah,” replied the 26-year-old. “With all my respect to the rest, to Riyad [Mahrez] as well because I played against him at Leicester. He’s [Salah] an absolutely explosive and unstoppable winger.

“What Liverpool did so well, especially when [Gini] Wijnaldum was there, because Wijnaldum is more like box-to-box. Community Shield game against Liverpool [in 2019], penalties, we won that game. Mikel [Arteta] was still there and I went to the dressing room at half-time and said ‘Mikel, what do I need to do with this?

“‘[Virgil] Van Dijk on the ball, he’s playing on the left-side on the right foot, without pressure, he does first touch, Wijnaldum runs behind between me and [Nicolas] Otamendi, I need to protect inside, Salah drops wide, the ball to feet and the distance between me and Salah, 50 meters. Imagine his pace against me, I’m finished. What do I need to do, there was like five balls like this in a row.’

“He said, ‘the only one way is to ask Raz (Sterling) who was playing on the left, to come to drop a bit lower to leave Trent. If you stay with Salah it’s a big gap for Wijnaldum. And when Mo is receiving the ball at his feet and he gets the pace… it’s impossible, impossible.”

Zinchenko pays Salah respect

Anyone who’s ever watched Zinchenko take on Salah will know exactly what the Arsenal man is talking about here.

Whenever Pep Guardiola chose to stick the Ukraine international in against the Reds, it was always good news. He just didn’t know how to handle Mo.

It isn’t news that Liverpool’s Egyptian King is one of the trickiest players to face of this generation. His records speak for themselves and no matter how he ages, he always seems to be one step ahead of opponents.

Oleksander Zinchenko
Photo by Suhaimi Abdullah/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Nevertheless, Salah often doesn’t quite get the recognition he deserves from the wider football world. As a result, it’s nice to hear him given his dues every now and again.

It’s also interesting to hear Zinchenko talk about the role that Wijnaldum played in making Salah a more difficult proposition. Gini was another who’s hard work often went unheralded, but this just underlines that he was absolutely crucial to everything Liverpool did.

Two years on from his departure, and the Reds are arguably yet to replace him. New signing Alexis Mac Allister looks like potentially being the closest to doing that, but it’s still very early days for him.

As a certain negativity hangs over Liverpool thanks to their lack of transfer dealings, it’s nice to think back to these halcyon days. Zinchenko still has to face Salah of course, and you can bet Mo will hear about this. Next time might just be the toughest yet for Alex.

Related Topics