Mohamed Salah outshone Neymar and Kylian Mbappe on the Champions League stage last season, but as Paris Saint-Germain’s star duo head to Anfield on Tuesday seeking to make amends, the Egyptian is struggling to match the heights of his debut campaign at Liverpool.
Salah’s failure to hit top form dates back to his last Champions League appearance four months ago.
Back in May, Salah was on the crest of a wave as his 44-goal campaign had carried Liverpool to the Champions League final and ensured qualification for this season’s competition.
However, he lasted just 30 minutes in Kiev after injuring his shoulder when wrestled to the ground by Real Madrid captain Sergio Ramos and the Spanish giants went on to lift the trophy in a 3-1 win.
That started a difficult few months for Salah as he was also robbed of being 100-percent fit for Egypt’s first World Cup in 28 years.
Without their talisman, the Pharaohs were beaten by Uruguay in their opening game and his goals against Russia and Saudi Arabia couldn’t prevent Egypt returning home without a single point.
Salah has also gone to war with the Egyptian federation over the use of his image and the decision to host their base camp in Chechnya.
Egypt’s star player was put in the awkward position of having to pose for photos with Chechen president Ramzan Kadyrov, who has been accused of human rights abuses.
That hangover has been felt on the field with Salah scoring just twice in Liverpool’s opening five games of the campaign and missing chances he ruthlessly put away last season.
– No one-man team –
So far Salah’s slackness hasn’t cost Jurgen Klopp’s men. A summer of shrewd investment to build on the already substantial progress made under the German is already bearing fruit with five straight wins.
“Of course, it’s important that we don’t have only one goalscorer,” Klopp said after an impressive 2-1 win over Tottenham on Saturday, that should have been a far more comprehensive victory if the visitors had taken their chances.
“It’s still early. Five games, fantastic we’ve won all of them, we have improved.”
The 39 million euros ($45 million) Liverpool paid for Salah from Roma was brilliant business not just based on Salah’s production, but the hyper inflation that took place in the market just weeks later when PSG smashed the world transfer record by splurging 222 million euros on Neymar.
A further 180 million was then splashed on beating Europe’s big guns to the signature of Mbappe, who confirmed his status as the rising star of world football in winning the World Cup for France.
Both Neymar and Mbappe will see themselves as heirs to the throne of Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo as the world’s best player.
But it is Salah who is on the shortlist for FIFA’s Best Player award alongside Ronaldo and Croatian midfielder Luka Modric of Real Madrid, after PSG failed to get beyond the last 16 of the Champions League last season.
The limited spotlight offered by Ligue 1 means Europe’s premier club competition is where Neymar and Mbappe need to shine to be in the running for individual awards.
However, a blockbuster clash on a Champions League night at fortress Anfield is also the perfect stage for Salah to demonstrate to the world he is no one-season wonder.