While Chelsea ran away with the Premier League title this season, their rivals know that the Stamford Bridge outfit will be under much more pressure next term. Defending their place at the summit of English football, Antonio Conte’s men will also have to negotiate the delicate balancing act of domestic and European commitments.
Those who trailed in their wake this term will hope a return to the Champions League causes some distraction, simultaneously seeking to bolster their own squads in pursuit of offering a genuine challenge to Chelsea.
Manchester City will of course use their enormous financial might to help Pep Guardiola do just that, but other clubs will be forced instead to exhaust other avenues. One option of course is to pick up players discarded by the newly crowned champions, which Juventus’ Juan Cuadrado and the presence of Kevin de Bruyne at the Etihad prove can be an effective tactic.
That he spent time with Chelsea is unlikely to factor into Liverpool’s pursuit of Mohamed Salah however, with his performances at AS Roma far more important than anything he did during a brief stint in West London. Indeed, the Egyptian winger made just 19 appearances during his 12 month spell with the club, arriving in January 2014 and leaving for Fiorentina just a year later.
Quickly establishing himself as a fan favourite with the Viola, Salah burned his bridges with their proud supporters by forcing a move to Roma in the summer of 2015. That came despite a pre-arranged agreement between the Tuscan side and Chelsea, the transfer eventually resulting in a bitter legal battle that left a bitter taste in the mouths of those on the Curva Fiesole.
Nevertheless, he began to play for Giallorosssi, drifting in and out of games as his impact mirrored the inconsistent displays of the team in general. Coach Rudi Garcia was replaced by Luciano Spalletti and rather than persevere with the former’s 4-3-3- formation, he instead opted for a system that allowed Salah to operate in something of a free role behind Edin Dzeko.
The Bosnian striker finished this season as Serie A’s leading scorer after bagging 29 goals, but his new sidekick weighed in with 15 of his own while Salah’s 11 assists were just one behind Jose Callejon’s league-high mark. Constantly laying on chances for his team-mates, the 71 scoring opportunities created by the 24-year-old was more than any other Roma player as his pace and skill allowed him to torment defences across the peninsula.
His running both with and without the ball that had caused problems for even the best defences, as his recent display in the win over Juventus served to highlight. There, Salah reminded everyone why he was such a hot commodity when he burst onto the scene with Basel just a few short years ago.
Completing two take-ons and 19 of his 23 pass attempts, he ran roughshod over the Champions League finalists, but also showed glimpses of the increased effort he has made when Roma lose possession. According to WhoScored.com, he registered career highs in both tackles (1.4) and interceptions (0.6) per 90 minutes, adding weight to the reported interest from Jürgen Klopp and Liverpool.
The German boss is known for his “heavy metal” approach, one predicated on his players’ ability to condense space and press opposition defenders relentlessly. That is something that many would previously have expected Salah to struggle with, but his increased defensive awareness – which has been inspired by both Spalletti and the infectious efforts of Radja Nainggolan – show that he could adapt accordingly.
An initial £28m offer was rejected by Roma, but it is believed that Liverpool continued discussions with the player and Sky Italia report that Salah has agreed personal terms with the Anfield side over the past few days. They will hope that development forces the issue at the Italian side, while Salah will be under no illusions about what to expect if he does indeed get a second crack at life in England.
“It was one of the key moments of my life and my career in terms of learning,” he says of his brief spell at Jose Mourinho’s Chelsea. “I was young, just 21, and suddenly I was alongside one of the best tacticians in the world, with exceptional players. I didn’t play much, it’s true, and I was not necessarily happy. I wanted to show what I was capable of. I was sad not to be able to do that.”
His development at Roma hints at both a vastly improved and increasingly mature player, now it seems Mohamed Salah may well get another chance to show Premier League fans what he is capable of.