In the first of our series looking at Premier League stars who are key for their World Cup side, Maryam Naz profiles Liverpool winger and Golden Boot winner Mohamed Salah.
Name: Mohamed Salah
A record-breaking season…
His staggering goalscoring statistics this year put him alongside some of the greatest Liverpool players. He joins Ian Rush and Roger Hunt as the only players in the history of the club to score more than 40 goals a season.
Some of his memorable performances this season involve his double against his former side Roma and a scintillating display against Manchester City in both the Champions League and the Premier League. Indeed, Salah has been so prolific in front of goal this season that he has a higher goal tally than entire clubs, including West Brom, Swansea and Huddersfield.
A national hero…
Yet, not only is he a talisman for his domestic club, but also for his national team Egypt. In October 2017 Salah scored twice against the Democratic Republic of Congo, including a 95th-minute penalty to seal the win and send them through to the World Cup for the first time since 1990.
His style of play fits in well with the disciplined, counter-attacking football that is a trademark of Egypt coach Hector Cuper. A conservative 4-2-3-1 system ensures defensive rigidity, making them hard to break down. Yet it also allows Salah and winger Ramadan Sobhi to hit teams on the break with pace and accuracy.
While some consider this ‘park-the-bus-and-then-pass-it-to-Salah’ ploy too risky, Cuper’s defensive system is tried and tested – one that Egypt will need to adhere to well in the face of stronger teams in their group, such as Uruguay.
Who can stand up in possible Salah’s absence?
However, Salah’s recent shoulder injury against Real Madrid in the Champions League final has put a damper on the hopes of Egypt. He has assured fans via Twitter he is “confident” of his fitness for the tournament. But should he be absent for any part, other players including Sobhi and Mohamed Elneny will need to take responsibility to step up to help fill the void.
Elneny has proven capable of providing defensive reassurance in the centre of the pitch. For his domestic side, Arsenal, he has shown that he is not a reckless player; his cool demeanour and style of play will be a welcome form of rationale in the face of difficult opposition.
How far can they go?
Let’s face it – it won’t be easy for the Egyptians, especially if Salah is an absentee. But if they can get through the first few matches with some points to their name then they might just have a chance to make it through the group stages.
Verdict? Egypt will make it to the knockout stages, but may just peter out against one of the international giants.
Follow Maryam on Twitter @MNaz98