Neil Humphreys: Salah ready to rule Europe
Reds star peaks in forward role for Napoli clash
Mohamed Salah's recent goal celebrations highlighted the idiotic side of football's relentless media coverage.
The Liverpool forward hardly celebrated his hat-trick against Bournemouth. He collected the match ball and trudged off, barely raising a smile.
There had to be a problem, surely, according to a few overeager analysts. Maybe he was unsettled. Maybe he was unhappy about a perceived slight, or something in the dressing room, or anything that might make a headline.
Or maybe the absence of fist-pumping histrionics was his low-key way of making a broader point. He didn't need to twist and shout. His hat-trick had done the talking.
In recent weeks, everyone else has done the talking on his behalf, commenting on his apparent loss of form. But Salah wasn't worried. Nor was Juergen Klopp. The only men with furrowed brows are those wearing Napoli jerseys.
When the Italian side visit Anfield tomorrow morning (Singapore time), they'll focus on cold stats and common sense.
Salah's numbers still add up. They always did.
The Egyptian's hat-trick creates an attractive symmetry ahead of Liverpool's must-win Champions League clash, the virtuoso finding his form at the right time, but it's a slightly simplistic narrative.
Only one footballer has more league strikes than Salah since the start of last season. He's a nifty limpet called Lionel Messi.
The Liverpool forward has out-scored every other elite footballer on the planet except the G.O.A.T and still his critics bleat.
Alan Shearer and Andy Cole are the only players to reach 40 English Premier League goals faster than Salah and he's already on 10 for this season.
Since his alleged dip in October, he's knocked in nine in 11 appearances for Liverpool and picked up a couple more for Egypt, too. Poor Salah. Where did it all go wrong?
The truth is it didn't. Klopp was never concerned about Salah repeating his 44-goal heroics of last season and nor was the man himself.
Lightning doesn't need to strike twice as long as Salah continues to play up a storm as often as possible.
Against Bournemouth, he breezed past dumbstruck defenders like a hurricane blowing through palm trees.
They never stood a chance.
And it wasn't a timely fluke, either, but a culmination of Klopp's tactical tweak. While attention has focused on Liverpool's improved defence, a subtle shift up front has also turned the Reds into unexpected table-toppers in December.
Salah and Roberto Firmino have essentially swopped positions. With echoes of Arsene Wenger and a young Thierry Henry, Klopp realised he had a natural-born killer cutting inside from the wing to cause carnage.
In the previous campaign, Salah's 44 goals mostly came from him operating on the right side of an attacking triumvirate. Firmino had the No.9 jersey, but the swashbuckling spirit of a devastating centre-forward belonged to Salah.
So this time around, Klopp has pushed Salah just ahead of Firmino. A period of adjustment was required as the Egyptian learnt to cultivate his own spaces around the box.
But everything came together at Bournemouth. Salah didn't just beat centre-backs. He bullied them, haunted them, forcing them into silly mistakes.
He showed the pace of Cole and the rugged power of Shearer to get away from stubborn tacklers.
Salah has Messi's graceful footwork and low centre of gravity to pivot and accelerate quickly. With 56 goals in 74 Liverpool appearances, he also has the figures to rival both Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo.
But they dominated European stages. They won games on their own when required. Salah hasn't, not entirely.
At 26, this is a chance for Salah to bridge the gap between himself and Messi and Ronaldo. Sweet dreams are made of Liverpool nights like this one.
The script is already written. It's perfect. Win 1-0 or by at least two clear goals. The setting is equally ideal. It's Anfield, under the floodlights, with thousands of Scousers screaming the greatest soundtrack in world football. All that's required now is a hero.
Great European nights made Liverpool a legendary football club. One more could make a legendary footballer.