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Time and time again, Mohamed Salah produces when Liverpool need him. With Real Madrid fully in the ascendancy of their Champions League quarter-final tie with the Reds, leading 2-0, Salah struck to offer the visitors hope of progression to the semi-finals.
Granted, that hope decreased – though a glimmer remains – after Vinicius Junior’s second goal of the evening meant Real Madrid eventually ran out 3-1 victors. The Spaniards are massive favourites to progress into the final four and set up a showdown with Chelsea or Porto.
But it was again a case of Salah standing up to be counted, regardless. Only Cristiano Ronaldo (140), Lionel Messi (156) and Robert Lewandowski (177) have scored more goals than Salah (121) across all competitions – of the major five leagues that is – since his Liverpool debut in August 2017.
Make that 27 goals in 42 games now for Liverpool this season, with at least another nine matches of the campaign to play. At his current rate of a goal every 127 minutes, that’s at least another six goals if he plays every minute of the season.
It could be more if the soon-to-be-dethroned Premier League champions can find a way to overturn their first-leg deficit against Real Madrid, though playing in a behind-closed-doors Anfield hurts their chances of doing so.
If Salah continues his current scoring rate, his final total will be significantly less than the 44 he mustered across all competitions in his debut season at Anfield in 2017-18.
Yet 33 would be the joint-second most goals that a Liverpool player has scored in a single campaign since 1996, with Fernando Torres also mustering the same amount in his sensational debut campaign at the club in 2007-08.
As the Egypt international postures over a possible move to Real Madrid and Barcelona, saying in the press that he’d be open to joining one of La Liga’s big-hitters in the future, it must surely be clear to Liverpool’s owners that Salah’s contributions would be immensely difficult to replace.
Even more so were they to lose Salah this summer, given they don’t have Champions League finances – and the lure of playing in the competition – to offer to any players they would want to sign as his successor.
Salah became just the fifth Liverpool player to score in four straight European appearances for the club after Roger Hunt, Robbie Fowler, Djibril Cisse and Steven Gerrard.
He now has 26 goals and 10 assists in 44 Champions League appearances on Merseyside to go with 91 goals and 34 assists in 137 Premier League appearances.
Salah loves the spotlight and thrives in it, especially at the very highest level. If Liverpool want to challenge for major honours again, the Egyptian is surely a player they must keep hold of.
Diogo Jota has been excellent this term since a £45m switch from Wolves, scoring 12 goals in 23 appearances, but was disappointing in Madrid, while Sadio Mane and Roberto Firmino have endured seasons well below their capabilities.
Losing Salah would mean needing another player like Jota to come in and instantly hit the ground running given Firmino’s continued decline and the desperate need for Mane to get a lengthy rest. It is unclear whether the Senegalese will be able to return to the levels of the title-winning season.
Salah has been the one constant. Even while the quality of his actual performances may have fluctuated, his output has remained at an incredibly high level, though he admittedly went on six and five-game goalless runs in the top flight across December and January and February and March.
Asked about signing Salah pre-match, Real Madrid boss Zinedine Zidane was coy, saying: “Since he’s not our player, I’m not going to get into that.”
Yet with his current Liverpool contract up in 2023, a decision will very shortly have to be made by Liverpool about the forward’s Anfield future.
His words to Spanish publications in recent months should not be that surprising. He’s keeping his options open in case Liverpool decide they want to part ways, given their reluctance to pay big money to over-30s players, which he will be in less than 18 months.
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But much of it, given his connection with Liverpool, is surely Salah and his people putting the pressure on the club’s hierarchy to table an attractive extension offer to the £200,000-a-week wide-man.
The joint-top Premier League goalscorer’s former Fiorentina team-mate Micah Richards said on Sky Sports recently: “When I was in Italy with Mo Salah, he absolutely loved Liverpool. He loves Liverpool [now] – I would be surprised if he wanted to go anywhere else.”
And Salah, in scoring against Real Madrid even in an off-night for himself and his team, showed that he remains the man for the big occasion. More so than any other in the Liverpool side.
He turns 29 in June but there is plenty of reason to believe he can continue his current scoring rate into his 30s. Leicester’s Jamie Vardy, at 34, continues to score freely though has been lucky to avoid major injuries.
There is very little more Salah could have done across recent years to prove he’s worthy of another lucrative contract at Liverpool. If FSG and Klopp decide to cut ties, especially this summer, it will be a gigantic gamble.
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