Liverpool's Mohamed Salah embodies best of Ian Rush, Kenny Dalglish
The best strikers spread fear in defenders, and Liverpool's Mohamed Salah is the game's biggest bogeyman at the moment. The terror that the forward inflicted on the Roma defence during his team's 5-2 Champions League semifinal, first leg win was startling to behold.
It wasn't just his scoring that cowed the Giallorossi. Eusebio Di Francesco's side were afraid to push forward when Salah was on the pitch. The Egypt international scored two goals and until Jurgen Klopp substituted the 25-year-old with 15 minutes to go, Roma were reluctant to leave their own half.
Anfield has seen more than its share of great strikers. In recent years, Luis Suarez made the Kop gasp. A decade ago, Fernando Torres brought the crowd to their feet. Two decades ago, Michael Owen burst onto the scene. Salah's stunning first season on Merseyside has eclipsed all his predecessors -- bar one.
Only Ian Rush has hit the net more times during a single campaign for Liverpool. The Welshman's greatest season was 1983-84, when he scored 47 goals. Salah has notched 43 times and has at least three games -- four, if Liverpool reach the Champions League final -- to equal or surpass that record.
The two strikers have much in common. Rush was devastatingly quick and exploited space behind opponents in a similar manner to Salah. Both men relish playing against defences that operate with high lines. Rush was clinical and calm when one-on-one with goalkeepers; he would have suited a Jurgen Klopp team, too. He closed down opposing ball carriers and forced mistakes with intelligent pressing. Salah has many similar characteristics.
One advantage that Rush had over Salah was that his partner was Kenny Dalglish. The Scot was the striker's chief supplier and the greatest player in Liverpool's history. Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mane are splendid foils for Salah, but neither is at Dalglish's level. Yet Salah shows flashes that evoke memories of the player Anfield calls "King Kenny." He does not have the range of playmaking abilities that Dalglish possessed -- the Scot's awareness and passing range were exceptional -- but there are times when "the Egyptian King" looks like a reincarnation of his illustrious forerunner.
Both of Salah's goals against Roma were straight out of the Dalglish playbook. The first, a precise chip from the edge of the box, was a carbon copy of one of the Scotland striker's signature moves. The second goal also gave older fans flashbacks. Once through and one-on-one with Alisson, Salah steadied himself and dinked the ball over the goalkeeper with a perfect, tantalizing pace that gave the defenders charging for cover the faintest hope that they would reach the ball before it crossed the line. Instead, the shot had the perfect pace to enter the net.
At the moment of maximum pressure, Salah appeared to slow the game down to suit his needs. There was nothing rushed about the finish. While everyone around him was running flat-out in a state of panic, the Liverpool striker was able to coolly assess the situation and score with unhurried ease. Dalglish, watching from the stands, celebrated both goals with unbridled joy. He saw a kindred spirit.
Salah is not always elegant and his occasionally scruffy play works to his favour. Defenders close in on him, and like Dalglish, the ball sometimes seems to get caught between his feet, giving opponents the illusion that they are about to regain possession. In the second half against Roma, Salah received a pass in midfield and looked as if he had failed to get it under control. He straddled the ball awkwardly as he was closed down, but had the strength to hold off two challenges and the quick feet to shift the ball into a more advantageous position. Before the tacklers were even aware that they had been beaten, Salah was out of the melee and looking for a teammate.
It was a knack that Dalglish had, too. It makes them unpredictable and hard to read. The two men share the ability to turn a ragged first touch into a bewildering dribble.
Salah has some of the best attributes of Rush and Dalglish. It makes for an intoxicating mix and leaves defenders dizzy. It is too early to elevate the Egypt international into the pantheon of Anfield legends, but if Salah can spearhead Klopp's side to a Champions League win in Kiev and smash Rush's record along the way, there will be no doubting his standing.
The Kop has seen greatness before. It is seeing it again watching Salah.
Tony Evans has been a sports journalist for more than 20 years. He writes for ESPN FC on the Premier League. Twitter: @tonyevans92a.