Mohamed Salah's sensational 2017-18 has set expectations impossibly high
Mohamed Salah's performances in the opening six games of the season have been somewhat underwhelming, but only when viewed in the prism of what he did last season.
He's played six games, scored two goals and has a couple of assists. He also won a penalty and an opponent was sent off for bringing him down when clean through. He's had numerous others chances that he hasn't taken and also had a goal disallowed. He's not breaking any records, but he is making an impact.
It's not actually that different to how he began last year, when he found the net three times in his first half-dozen outings. Had Salah been a new arrival this summer, then what he has done so far would be seen as an encouraging start. Instead, people are asking: "What's wrong with Mo?"
Put simply, he's a victim of his own success. The expectation and intense scrutiny on him is a direct result of his incredible feats last year and now his every move is being analysed and dissected, often with ludicrous conclusions being drawn, particularly on social media.
It's crazy. Some people actually believed Salah was unhappy when Roberto Firmino scored the winner against Paris Saint-Germain in midweek. Their reason? Because several seconds after the fact, he angrily threw down a drinks container.
Thankfully, the storm was short lived as footage was available of him initially celebrating the goal before his little fit of pique. How is anyone jumping to that bizarre conclusion in the first place, though?
Others have convinced themselves that there is a problem between him and Sadio Mane and that they won't pass to each other because both want to be "the man". Not only is this contrived, it's insulting to the professionalism of both players.
Yes, there have been numerous occasions when one or the other should have passed but instead went for goal themselves, but that's football. Often players will back their own ability to score and in the process ignore teammates who are better placed. It's something a manager may occasionally need to speak to them about, but don't read any more into it than that.
Salah is actually one of the players closest to Mane, who is by all accounts a shy individual who tends to keep to himself quite a lot. The pair were even the subject of a recent feature on the club's TV station called "Bezzies" (a Scouse term used to describe best friends). The notion that they won't pass to each other because of jealousy or a competitive rivalry is, put mildly, wide of the mark.
Salah hasn't been on top form though, that much is obvious. The game with PSG was a great opportunity for the Egypt international to kick-start his season, but instead he produced his worst outing so far and was substituted late in the second half after a poor pass resulted in Kylian Mbappe's equaliser.
The game had been billed as a mouthwatering showdown between the two most highly regarded front threes in world football. Unfortunately, an eye injury meant Firmino was unable to start the game -- although he did finish it, quite literally -- so the head to head between Liverpool's star trio and Neymar, Mbappe and Edinson Cavani will have to wait until the rematch in Paris.
On the evidence of what the French side's forwards produced -- or rather didn't -- at Anfield, however, the answer as to which trio is better is pretty straightforward; it's Liverpool's.
In truth, it's always been Liverpool's, but Tuesday put the exclamation point on it. On paper, PSG's forward line is unquestionably the sexier. Individually, they have the edge, but as a collective unit there's no comparison. This is not FIFA 19 on the Playstation, it's real life.
Liverpool's forward line exceeds the sum of its parts because they work well with each other as well as with the rest of the team. The same cannot be said of Neymar & Co.
PSG's defence and midfield did well to only concede three goals at Anfield as they received little or no help from a forward line not used to having to put in a defensive shift. To be fair, it's not something they need to do in domestic games as PSG are so dominant. Liverpool's forwards, on the other hand, do not have the luxury of not working hard and helping out defensively.
Klopp's system does not allow it. If one player isn't doing his job without the ball, the entire system collapses. It isn't something that comes naturally to Daniel Sturridge for example, but on Tuesday even his work rate put that of the PSG forward line to shame.
Salah was poor by his own high standards, though. Things didn't go his way and he was probably fortunate to last as long as he did before being substituted.
Here's the thing, though: Even on an off night, Salah still contributed to the team's performance due to his willingness to work for his teammates and operate as part of a unit when the Reds didn't have the ball. He was regularly chasing back deep into his own half to help out defensively, whereas neither Neymar nor Mbappe wanted any part of that.
So, what's wrong with Mo? Not much. He's not quite right yet, that much is obvious, but his "troubles" are being overstated because he's now a superstar, and superstars have to deal with a different level of scrutiny to everybody else.
Salah had to deal with a lot in recent months, on and off the field, and perhaps it has knocked his confidence a little. He's still the same man who plundered 44 goals last season, though, and he's playing in a side that is now even better than it was last term.
Salah will explode back into life sooner rather than later, and when he does, Liverpool will take some stopping.