The season of Salah: Liverpool’s Egyptian King

Leave a comment

I’ll admit it. I didn’t see this coming. At all. And even when it kept happening, game after game, it still seemed too good to be true.

I was adamant I would use my vote for the Footballer Writers’ Association Player of the Year on Kevin De Bruyne. I mean, it was all about KDB as he conducted the Manchester City juggernaut throughout their record-breaking season but as the months wore on in the Premier League season, Mohamed Salah kept scoring, and scoring, and scoring.

I had to vote for Salah, and I did, with the new chant (based on the hit “Sit Down” by James) reverberating in my head. He is truly adored by Liverpool’s fans.

“Mo Salah, Mo Salah, running down the wing… Salah, lah, lah, lah, lah, the Egyptian King!”

In a Facebook Live chat from Wembley around the turn of the year, I even took on a friendly wager with Bruce Vail (I owe you that beer, Bruce) that Harry Kane would end the season with more goals than Salah. Kane had a career best 30 in the PL despite a few weeks out with injury, might I add… but Salah finished top with 32. Of course he did.

This has been the year of Salah for club and country and the funny thing is, nobody saw it coming. At all. Let’s not forget, Salah had one very good season at AS Roma in 2016/17 after first being loaned out by Chelsea to Fiorentina and Roma from 2015 as he was deemed surplus to requirements at Stamford Bridge.

I wasn’t the only one who was blindsided and couldn’t quite believe what I was seeing week in, week out in the Premier League.

I vividly remember sitting in the freezing cold of the outdoor press box at Anfield in January as Salah lobbed Ederson from 40 yards out to put Liverpool 4-1 up against Man City, who had yet to be beaten in the PL that season. I smiled, everyone smiled, but then I looked around to my left and sat behind me was “King” Kenny Dalglish with the biggest smile of all as he punched the air with delight and celebrated alongside several Liverpool greats.

The Liverpool great has seen the likes of Robbie Fowler, Steven Gerrard and Luis Suarez rival his legendary status with the Kop and this man Salah has the potential to be a true God among Liverpool fans, if he isn’t already.

Salah’s sensational season took everyone by surprise as the Egyptian winger transformed his game under Jurgen Klopp and has become a global superstar over the last nine months at Liverpool. His clinical finishing, rapid counter attacks and incredible dribbling ability combining perfectly with Sadio Mane and Roberto Firmino up top.

In his debut season at Anfield he has scored 44 goals in all competitions with one game to go (a bit of a humdinger, the UEFA Champions League final against Real Madrid on May 26) and set a new Premier League record for the most goals (32) scored in a 38-game season. I also remember being sat at Man City’s Etihad Stadium early in the season and watching Salah squander several chances as he started the season in slightly wasteful fashion. About that…

The joint-record for the most goals in a PL season held by Alan Shearer, Luis Suarez and Cristiano Ronaldo (31) tumbled under Salah’s brilliance and Shearer told PremierLeague.com that this wil be known as Salah’s season.

“When you’re looking to one of your players to do something different, do something special, more often than not it’s been Mo Salah,” Shearer said. “This season people will remember Salah and the impact that he had in his first season at Liverpool. No one has been able to stop him.”

Salah, still just 25 years old, has the perfect conditions around him to replicate this season too. Seriously.

Even though the hardest few months are probably coming up for him as he tries to reinvent his game slightly (after a World Cup with Egypt no less) and get used to two or three defenders marking him every time he has the ball next season, he’s playing for the perfect manager, with the perfect blend of players at the perfect club for how he wants to play.

Plus, aside from his playing ability, it’s the human factor of Salah which stands out and makes his story so lovable.

He’s the humble lad from the town of Nagrig in rural Egypt who plays with a smile on his face and a spring in his delicately permed hair.

Speaking about Salah in a speech written for the FWA awards evening last week, Klopp lauded his top goalscorer.

“The fact you have voted for him as your player of the season reflects that you have witnessed his incredible quality as a footballer. But it’s his qualities as a person that should not be overlooked,” Klopp said. “I read and hear about him being a wonderful role model for Egypt, North Africa, for the wider Arabic world and for Muslims. This, of course, is true, but he is a role model full stop.”

It’s not just on the club stage that Salah has burst onto the scene. It has been almost a perfect storm as the season of Salah reaches its climax.

With one more game of the season for Liverpool the biggest of them all, the UCL final against Cristiano Ronaldo and Real Madrid, Salah not only has the chance to etch his name into Liverpool folklore but hammer home his bid to win the Ballon d’Or in 2018 and wrestle it away from Lionel Messi and Ronaldo.

At the same time as Salah’s fame with Liverpool is skyrocketing, he’s also become a hero in his homeland of Egypt, scoring the goal which took the Pharaohs to their first World Cup finals since 1990.

Like Messi and Ronaldo, Salah has the hopes of a soccer-mad nation resting on his shoulders this summer in Russia. If Salah leads Egypt to the latter stages of the World Cup, he is ready to take over from Ronaldo and Messi. That’s how good he’s been this season.

The man who saw him first emerge as a teenage talent in Egypt was former USMNT head coach Bob Bradley, who coached the Egyptian national team from 2011-13 as they just missed out on making the 2014 World Cup amid huge unrest in the North African nation. The Port Said massacre saw the domestic league suspended in 2012 and Salah, along with plenty of his Egyptian teammates, ended up heading overseas as a pathway to FC Basel in Switzerland was created.

Bradley knew back then that Salah had it in him and said as much in a recent interview with Yahoo Sports.

“When the league stopped, we had to start to put together camps and friendly matches because Olympic qualifying was that June,” Bradley said.“Immediately when we brought him in, you could see how special he was: Incredible quickness, speed, power, explosiveness. He improved at every camp. He took ideas really well. You could tell he was determined to get better.”

And that’s now what Salah must do. Get better. If he can.

The Egyptian King may never replicate this historic season and if he doesn’t, that’s fine. Liverpool’s fans and neutrals across the globe will never forget the season of Salah. Only the likes of Messi, Ronaldo, Suarez and Neymar have been able to replicate other-worldly form on a yearly basis over the last decade.

But if Salah does manage to replicate this, then he will truly enter the highest soccer pantheon.

Whatever happens, Egypt and Liverpool has a new King.

Own goal the difference as Spurs best Everton

Leave a comment

A first-half own goal sent hosts Tottenham Hotspur to a 1-0 win over Everton in North London on Monday.

[ MORE: Premier League summer schedule ]

Giovani Lo Celso’s shot took a wicked deflection off an unknowing Michael Keane to fool Jordan Pickford and give Spurs a much-needed win.

TOTTENHAM – EVERTON FULL MATCH REPLAY

Spurs move onto 48 points, seven back of fifth-place Manchester United. The North Londoners are one point behind Arsenal ahead of this weekend’s big derby (though there’s still a Thursday visit to Bournemouth for Spurs).

It was the first defeat since the restart for Everton. The Toffees’ 44 points have Carlo Ancelotti’s men 11th, four points off the Europa League spots.


Three things we learned

1. Mourinho peak-Mourinho versus Ancelotti: We can’t judge either manager’s tenure at their new club yet, but the home team’s boss used the tools at his disposal to frustrate Everton’s attack. Hopefully we get to see two Spurs-Everton duels next season with new weapons at both clubs. Odds are Spurs still might look a lot like this even with new pieces. That’s how Mou like to fight his way out of a slump.

2. Everton generates little: Maybe Richarlison isn’t at full fitness or perhaps the midfielders just didn’t have danger in them today. Maybe both, but key scorer. Dominic Calvert-Lewin joined strike partner Richarlison in struggling to produce good chances in an ugly-enough loss.

3. Tempers rise for Lloris, Son: All might seem well for a team leading a very decent visitor at halftime, but Hugo Lloris had to be restrained from Heung-min Son on the way off the field after 45 minutes. It was unclear why the South Korean star became a target of the French backstop’s ire, the broadcast team later showing that Lloris may have been angry with the forward not tracking back after a stoppage-time error. The pair were then shown hugging in the tunnel before returning for the second half.

Man of the Match

Lo Celso — And not because of the goal considering his shot was heading wide when it turned off Keane. Clearly comfortable at the PL level now, Lo Celso was a joy to watch on Monday. An early flubbed possession was an outlier, the 24-year-old Argentine showing a good range of passing while getting stuck into duels and making three tackles.


Tottenham – Everton recap

A sleepy, feeling-out first 20 minutes yield to excitement in an instant when Lucas Moura snapped a hard shot from distance past Everton keeper Jordan Pickford but also the post.

Spurs’ opener came after Everton blocked two successive shots only to see the third shot take a hard turn off Michael Keane to defy Pickford for 1-0 just before the first half water break.

Lo Celso then won a free kick off Mason Holgate on the edge of the 18, the English defender earning a yellow for his hard sliding challenge.

There was little to love in the second half, a cagey affair indeed. Pickford made a nice save on Son, while Moise Kean’s late shot through Eric Dier’s legs was scooped up by Lloris.

[ MORE: Premier League stats ]

WATCH: Lloris, Son separated by teammates at halftime

Leave a comment

All might have seemed well for Tottenham Hotspur holding a 1-0 lead over Everton at halftime of a big Premier League encounter on Monday in North London.

But normally calm goalkeeper Hugo Lloris had to be restrained from Heung-min Son on the way off the field after 45 minutes.

[ MORE: Sargent, Bremen pull off great escape ]

It was unclear why the South Korean star became a target of the French backstop’s ire, but the broadcast team showed that Lloris may have been angry with the forward not tracking back after a stoppage-time error allowed a chance to the Toffees.

Our crew breaks down the incident above, as two unlikely combatants needed to be separated before being caught making amends in the tunnel before the second half.

We’re unlikely to hear anything revelatory from Jose Mourinho about the incident after the match, but he’ll surely be asked about an odd one that clearly turned out okay.

Sargent, Werder Bremen avoid Bundesliga relegation (video)

Werder Bremen avoids relegation
Photo by Pool/Ronald Wittek/Pool via Getty Images
Leave a comment

Werder Bremen is staying the Bundesliga on away goals after a 2-2 draw at Heidenheim in the second leg of the promotion/relegation playoff preserved their place in Germany’s top flight.

Bremen’s American forward Josh Sargent had a front-row seat for the decisive goal, getting the last touch before Norman Theuerkauf put it in his own goal in the third minute.

Heidenheim thickened the drama late when Tim Kleindienst put home the rebound of a shot smashed off the crossbar in the 85th, but a grinder’s effort from veteran Fin Bartels to set up Ludwig Augustinsson in stoppage time put the tie to bed. Heidenheim added a penalty at the death as Kleindienst finished his brace.

[ MORE: Marsch named Coach of the Year ]

Bremen avoids its first relegation in nearly 40 years. Heidenheim finished third in 2.Bundesliga while Bremen was third-bottom of Bundesliga.

Sargent, 20, worked his way into becoming a Bremen regular this season, featuring in its last 17 league matches and both playoff matches. He started Monday, one of 15 starts between the Bundesliga and playoffs. He finished the season with four goals and four assists.

His stats over 88 minutes were good. Sargent had two shots on target, one blocked, completed two of four dribbles, and influenced the own goal (SofaScore). One of his shots saved could’ve easily been a goal but it did not cost Bremen. The industrious Sargent was involved in 24 duels and drew two fouls.

Manager Florian Kohfeldt asked Sargent to run his shorts off and press hard at forward and Bremen was not good at getting service to anyone this season. Sargent will have hardened his game this season and can now claim to be a part of one of the greatest escapes in Bundesliga history.

An editorial note of pure opinion: Keep an eye on Heidenheim’s Niklas Dorsch, a Bayern Munich academy product who drove Heidenheim with influential performances all season. Unsure there’s another year in the second tier for him.

Arsenal – Leicester City preview: How to watch, start time, stream, odds, prediction

Arsenal - Leicester City preview
Photo by David Price/Arsenal FC via Getty Images
Leave a comment

Arsenal – Leicester City presents a litmus test for two big names seeking to put a stamp on young tenures at Premier League clubs.

Mikel Arteta and Brendan Rodgers match wits at the Emirates Stadium on Tuesday with pivotal table positioning on the line (Watch live at 3:15pm ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com).

Leicester’s 58 points are good enough for third place but a tepid run-of-form saw the side slip from a virtual guaranteed spot in the Champions League to a possible Europa League competitor.

[ MORE: Premier League summer schedule ]

Arsenal meanwhile has driven itself into eighth place after a very poor start to the season, its 49 points six points behind fifth-place Manchester United and nine behind the visiting Foxes.

Leicester boss Brendan Rodgers signed a new deal with Leicester despite being linked with the Arsenal job before Arteta took the reins in North London.

Team news

Leicester is waiting on two key pieces. James Maddison has been out and there’s guarantee he’ll return, while Ben Chilwell joined the walking wounded in the Foxes’ 3-0 defeat of Crystal Palace.

Mesut Ozil and Matteo Guendouzi remain on the outside-looking-in for Arsenal.

What they’re saying

Leicester forward Ayoze Perez on chasing the UCL“We need to make sure we protect what we’ve done so far and we can celebrate something important for us. (Manchester United on the last day) could be like a final you know. We’ll see. Football is not predictable at all. We’ve still got a couple of tough games to play. Hopefully by then we are already qualified. It would mean a lot (to qualify). I’ve not made my debut in the Champions League and It’s something you dream for always. The way we’ve done it, and for Leicester, it could mean a lot. It’s not done yet.”

Mikel Arteta on Arsenal’s Champions League hopes“I think we have to win every game and then wait and pray. It’s not about a game, we need to go game-by-game. A few weeks ago we were really far from thinking about Europe and we are a little bit closer at the moment so lets go game by game and see where that takes us.”

Odds and ends (full matchweek odds)

Arsenal is favored to win at +125 compared to Leicester’s +220, via DraftKings. A draw goes for +245.

Jamie Vardy and James Maddison scored in a 2-0 Leicester win over the Gunners at the King Power Stadium earlier this season.

Arsenal – Leicester City Prediction

Leicester could handle the loss of Chilwell but the absence of Maddison has been notable even in the win over Palace. Both teams have tremendous creators and Youri Tielemans has been wonderful for Leicester, but Arsenal have a bit more and the Foxes do have the injury issues even if both of their ailing stars can go. Arsenal 2-0.

How to watch Arsenal – Leicester City stream, start time

Kickoff: 3:15 pm ET Tuesday
TV Channel: NBCSN
Online: Stream via NBCSports.com