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Mo Salah might be the best Premier League player ever but is the ‘unprecedented’ Liverpool forward still underrated?

Mo Salah might be the best Premier League player ever but is the 'unprecedented' Liverpool forward still underrated?

Still only 29, he’s one of the two greatest Premier League players of all-time, yet is Mohamed Salah still undervalued?

According to leading sports scientist Simon Brundish, it’s a categorical yes — and he’s got the statistics to prove it.

In 1999, a swaggering Frenchman by the name of Thierry Henry arrived at Arsenal from Juventus. Over the next eight years, Henry would forge his name as one of the most feared forwards in the history of the game, forming the jewel in the crown of a glittering Gunners side that wrote themselves into the history books with an unbeaten league campaign in the 2003-04 season.



Eighteen years later, Mo Salah followed Henry’s path in swapping Italy for England — this time to Liverpool’s benefit.

The Egyptian has scored over 100 times in just four seasons since his move from Roma, spearheading the club’s sixth Champions League triumph in 2019 and a first league title win in three decades the following year.

That number of goals is even more remarkable given Salah usually operates from wide positions, rather than as a central striker like Chelsea’s Romelu Lukaku.

“I think as a player in the Premier League, he is unprecedented,” said Brundish of CNN Sport.

“The nearest we have of him is Thierry Henry, but by the time he was at Salah’s age, he’d already moved to central striker — up until 23, he sometimes played from the left.

“Henry might be the other most undervalued, underrated footballer in the Premier League’s history with Salah.”

 

Ballon d’Or worthy?

With six goals in his first seven games, Salah has had a customarily prolific start to Liverpool’s 2021/22 league campaign.

His stunning solo goal in the 2-2 draw with reigning champion Manchester City earlier this month epitomized the Egyptian’s brilliance — jinking past multiple sky blue shirts before rifling a fierce drive, on his weaker right foot, past Ederson from the tightest of angles.

Last Friday saw the announcement of the men’s Ballon d’Or shortlist, with Salah among the 30 nominees for football’s foremost individual accolade. The Ballon d’Or ceremony takes place in Paris on November 29.

Despite a 32-goal, Golden Boot-winning league campaign in his debut Liverpool season and his efforts since, Salah has never made the podium for the award — a fact that baffles Brundish — though the sports scientist believes the forward is on course to avenge any previous injustice this season.

“I think if he carries on like this, there’s no argument,” Brundish said.

“I don’t think there’s anybody that’s having anything like the season that he is currently having. If Liverpool have a good run in Europe — they generally tend to be good at the European thing — and win one of the league title or the Champions League, I think he has the momentum.

“I think he should have won it in 2017/18, he was the best player on the planet that year. The caveat to that is Messi was the best player on the planet because he’s always the best player on the planet until he’s not breathing, but Salah was the best performing player.”

 

Deep diving into the stats

The numbers give credence to Brundish’s analysis — 152 league games played for Liverpool, 101 goals and 36 assists. These are not the sort of statistics that need quantifying or additional explanation to show Salah’s greatness, and yet Brundish arrives with extra receipts anyway.

Reference is made to analytic metrics known as expected goals and expected assists — data that effectively measures the likelihood of shots and final passes ending in goals. A value is generated between zero and one to quantify the likelihood of a goal for each action: zero being impossible to score and one being a certain goal.

Expected goals (xG) takes into account variables such as the shot angle and distance from the goal, while expected assists (xA) is similarly based upon factors like where the pass was made from and where the scorer initially received the ball.

Taking Salah’s goal against Liverpool as an example, Curtis Jones would be awarded a relatively low xA figure for his short pass to the Egyptian that immediately preceded the goal, given Salah’s distance out and the number of City defenders in his path.

Similarly, taking into account the acute angle of Salah’s finish, the xG assigned to his shot would have been small compared to an open shot from the center of the box.



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