It’s incredible to think Mohamed Salah could beat the strongest one-term scoring total of Liverpool legend Ian Rush during his first season at the club. And it’s incredible to think when the Reds acquired Salah from Roma last summer, he was considered an educated gamble of a signing at best. It’s even more incredible to think that Chelsea once deemed the 57-cap Egyptian international surplus to requirements. And it’s even more incredible to think Salah’s very own former club, Giallorossi, thought the best way to defend against him at Anfield was to deploy a high line, marshalling him between a 32-year-old Aleksandar Kolarov and centre-back Juan Jesus.
Indeed, the last few years of Salah’s career have been defined by his ability to defy expectations and continue rising to the occasions in front of him. Unloved at Chelsea, a sensational six months at Fiorentina obliged Roma to help him block a permanent deal. In turn, two seasons at the Stadio Olimpico convinced Liverpool to bring the 25-year-old back to the Premier League. Every move since that ill-fated Chelsea switch has resembled a jump up a rung in the ladder, and every time Salah has embraced the added pressure and responsibility.
Within the context of this season too, Salah has grown and grown. He’s transformed from an exciting addition to Liverpool’s front-line, to their top scorer, to their most talismanic influence. And Tuesday night’s stunning 5-2 victory over his former club provided the latest climax; just as Salah’s risen to fill the void as Liverpool’s most frightening entity, the challenge of proving it in a Champions League semi-final only appeared to bring the best out of the diminutive, nomadic attacker.
Once again, there’s no question Roma made it easy for Liverpool and particularly Salah, as the trick that inspired their incredible comeback against Barcelona proved impossible to pull off twice against similarly potent opposition. The deployment of a high line but the failure to curtail Roberto Firmino’s influence created a consistent supply line that proved unstoppable, the Brazilian twice assisting his attacking accomplice as Salah – who Transfermarkt value at £72million – netted twice in the ten minutes just before half-time.
It wasn’t just Salah’s effectiveness in affecting the scoreline though, but the manner in which he did it. The forward’s season has been littered with gorgeous goals, but an unstoppable curler into the top right corner and a delicate chip over one of the best goalkeepers in Europe right now, with just enough top spin to roll over the line, were up there with any strike Salah’s netted this term, all the more incredibly on such a momentous occasion for a club that boasts elite heritage in Europe but has only been involved in the Champions League twice since 2009/10.
History and expectation was on Salah’s shoulders last night, from Liverpool fans, Roma fans and neutrals, yet he defied it once again to further elevate his stock. Coupled with two assists in the second-half, it was an individual performance that won’t be forgotten quickly by the Champions League, and even less quickly on Merseyside. And yet, there remains a lingering doubt over how long Salah can sustain not only this level of form but also this level of exponential growth for.
If Salah continues at his current rates, he’ll soon be in the same category as Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi. Simply because of how incredible those generation-defining talents are, it seems almost implausible – a slump next season is far easier to imagine. But if Salah has proved anything since failing to make his mark at Chelsea, it’s that nothing can stop his ability to grow.