Another game, another record. Mohamed Salah’s brilliant injury-time strike came at the expense of a French team and a French icon: Toulouse conceded for a fifth time at Anfield on Thursday but, perhaps more momentously, the Egyptian passed Thierry Henry for most goals for one English club in Europe. There are 43 of them, surely with more to follow. Five days earlier, Salah had accelerated beyond Steven Gerrard and Kenny Dalglish, scoring more goals at Anfield than either of arguably Liverpool’s two greatest-ever players.
“Maybe he would break more records if I would be more into it,” reflected Jurgen Klopp, who rarely studies the statistics but savours the player. “Everyone will appreciate him even more after his career because then you will say, ‘Wow, we saw something really special’.”
Perhaps it is not the time for tributes: not just yet. Salah is 31 and if his style of play is evolving, if Klopp agrees he is becoming more creative, he is far from finished. In some respects, his manager feels he is the youngest thirty-something in the business.
“Off the pitch he behaves as a grown man, but beyond that he is still a young player,” Klopp said. “He is top fit. I think if we were to scan him, the majority of the bones are aged 19 or 20. He just keeps himself in such good shape. I cannot compare Mo to other 30-year-olds, because I don’t think biologically he is.”
But maturity is apparent in his game, if not his bones. Klopp believes he adapts according to his teammates: a sidekick to Edin Dzeko at Roma became more of a scorer for Liverpool. In an inverted forward line, Roberto Firmino tended to forage in midfield and find teammates. Now a false nine has been replaced by a spearhead, in Darwin Nunez. Salah has shown he can set up chances for the mercurial Uruguayan.
“The young Mo was a super-fast player who could run in behind and play a role together with Dzeko,” Klopp remembered. “Dzeko would roll the ball or deflect it and Mo was there. From the first day here he had to do different things, he adapted extremely well but the playmaker in that front row was probably more Bobby Firmino, setting things up, and you don’t need then two players who are deeper.
“You need players in the box and to bring the ball over the line. So now it is slightly different; especially when Darwin is playing we have another speed player up there so that changed Mo’s position definitely. He is smart enough to adapt to all these things and there has been a massive development since he arrived. He was, in all phases, world class, and that is probably the best thing you can say about a player.”
A world-class scorer – with 195 goals in just over six seasons at Anfield – is arguably the most creative player in the division now. He has the highest expected assists total and has fashioned the most big chances this season, with nine; he only made 15 in the whole of last season. He has never averaged more key passes per game in a Premier League campaign than this, with 2.2.
Klopp’s view is that ability has been allied with intelligence. A threat in the penalty box for much of his time Anfield, Salah is showing he can be dangerous in different ways when outside it. “It is to do with game understanding,” he explained. “That is what we try to give young players. They all know an awful lot about football when they finish their careers at the age of 35, but the earlier in their career you get this information the more useful they are.
“Obviously with Mo it is clear he understands the spaces much better, he knows how players react around him and then if he cannot score, he can still be a threat for us. That is really super important. The Everton game will not go down in history, performance wise, but then scoring two goals was massive, in other games, he has played much better and not scored but being constantly a threat is as important for us because that really opens up spaces for all the other boys.”
And Salah is a constant threat: if he has been since signing for Liverpool, it is certainly true now. In his last 15 league games, he has either scored, assisted or both in 14. And the only time he drew a blank, he should not: it was his pass that led to Luis Diaz’s goal that was wrongly, and infamously, ruled out at Tottenham. His sequence ended but his incision was still apparent. And at a time when Erling Haaland has taken Salah’s title as the Premier League’s scorer supreme, perhaps it was a sign the Egyptian has reinvented himself as its best all-round attacker.