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Transfer Rater: Demirbay to Liverpool

Football Whispers
 By Tony Evans

Mohamed Salah leads the league in goals, but can the Liverpool winger maintain his fast start?

Mohamed Salah has been one of the stars of the Premier League season so far. The Liverpool winger's speed, movement and eye for goal have made him one of Jurgen Klopp's prime weapons.

The 25-year-old will be in the spotlight when Anfield hosts his former club, Chelsea, on Saturday. The Egypt international will be aiming to add to his league-leading tally of nine Premier League goals in a match that will be a big test of Liverpool's top-four credentials.

Salah has started the season at stunning pace -- both literally and figuratively. Few defenders can keep up once he takes off in a sprint. He has also racked up the goals, adding five more in the Champions League to his domestic total. If he continues this way, Liverpool will consider the £34.3 million they paid Roma for Salah to be a bargain.

The winger has confounded the doubters who believed that Salah's time at Chelsea proved that he could not be effective in the English game. His next challenge is to maintain his momentum throughout the campaign. It will not be easy.

Liverpool were very keen to sign Salah in January 2014 but were gazumped by the west London club. Initially, it looked like Anfield had a lucky escape. Jose Mourinho barely used him and he made just 13 appearances in the year he spent at Stamford Bridge before being sent out on loan.

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The suggestions from Chelsea were that Salah was too lightweight for the physical nature of the Premier League and his finishing was not clinical enough.

In reality, Salah was always going to struggle to break into a strong Chelsea side. He was competing with Eden Hazard and Willian, among others, and was too attack-minded for Mourinho. The Portuguese likes his wingers to track back and defend. That was not Salah's strong point.

There are still questions about whether Salah can cope with the rigours of a long, English season. Klopp appears keen not to overwork the player. Although Salah has been an ever-present in the side apart from the EFL Cup match against Leicester City, the Liverpool manager has substituted him in 11 of his 19 appearances. Some of these withdrawals have been late in the game but there is a clear sense that Klopp wants to keep Salah as fresh as possible.

After Chelsea, Liverpool play nine games before the new year. The heavy workload will put pressure on the squad and it is important to conserve the energy of the most important members of the team.

The biggest threat to Salah's form is not the English winter. There are often lazy assumptions that the cold, wind and boggy pitches make life more difficult for foreign players, especially those who rely on pace and skill. Dropping temperatures will not slow the winger down.

Ex-Chelsea forward Mohamed Salah has scored nine Premier League goals since joining Liverpool from Roma.

What will make things harder for Salah is that he is no longer a surprise package to Premier League defenders and managers. Despite his short spell for Chelsea, few in the English game had played against him when he arrived at Anfield. Everyone knew about his growing reputation at Roma but that is a different proposition to actually being on the same pitch as an opponent.

Teams across the Premier League have been surprised by his pace and directness. The challenge will come when the Liverpool speedster comes up against sides for the second time. Defenders will have noted the positions he takes up and will be planning for them. Managers are now setting up their teams to stop Salah in a way they were not doing in the opening months of the campaign.

Gameplans that were centred around stopping Sadio Mane now take Salah into account. This will create a new challenge for the winger.

The game is littered with examples of players who had a massive impact in the first part of the season and then found their impact blunted by familiarity.

One of the most pronounced examples came in 1985 when Frank McAvennie produced one of the most sensational half-seasons ever for West Ham United. The Scot arrived from St Mirren and scored 18 goals in his first 21 league matches -- half the season at the time -- for his new club, all before Christmas. There was a television blackout at the time and rivals could not even watch recordings of McAvennie in action until after the new year.

In the rest of the campaign he notched a respectable eight times but even such a high-class goalscorer found things much more awkward when defences became familiar with his methods.

More recently, Diafra Sakho had a stunning start to his West Ham career three years ago. The Senegalese banged in eight goals -- seven in the Premier League -- in 11 appearances by mid-December. He scored just four in the subsequent 16 games. Injuries hampered Sakho but defenders found him easier to handle second time around.

When Michu arrived at Swansea City five years ago few expected much from the Spanish striker. He shocked opponents by scoring 16 up to the first week in January but he could not maintain the pace. He managed six more goals before the end of the season but never recovered the flying form of his first months in south Wales.

Salah has the class to avoid some of the pitfalls that will come as managers set up their sides to stop him. It will get harder from now on, though. He has become a familiar face, and threat, not just to his former Chelsea teammates but to the rest of the league.

But if Salah can continue in the style he has shown so far, he will prove one of the best buys in recent Anfield history.

Tony Evans has been a sports journalist for more than 20 years. He writes for ESPN FC on the Premier League. Twitter: @tonyevans92a.


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