Liverpool’s Mohamed Salah overtaken by Eden Hazard as the Premier League’s premium talent

Salah may have ended last season as the undisputed – and double – player of the season, but his display and wider form means he no longer looks like the best player in the division

Miguel Delaney
Chief Football Writer
Sunday 30 September 2018 10:24
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Maurizio Sarri says 1-1 draw against Liverpool was 'right result'

For all the late fireworks, Chelsea’s draw with Liverpool was a game that did not have too much tangible effect on the early title race – but did maybe reveal a lot about one of the factors that will fire it.

Mohamed Salah may have ended last season as the undisputed – and double – player of the season, but his display and wider form means he no longer looks like the best player in the division. That, at least while Belgian teammate Kevin De Bruyne is injured, is indisputably Eden Hazard.

He only continued his sensational opening to the campaign, by so exquisitely completing the move for the opening goal in Saturday’s draw. It was just more convincing proof of a star on form, lifting his side to his higher levels.

As their main goal threat now, Hazard just gives Chelsea a proper end product that wouldn’t otherwise be there; a penetration to passing moves that wouldn’t otherwise be there.

That goal was such compelling evidence. Having surged through after an exquisite combinative passing off the type Maurizio Sarri idealises, Hazard still just put the ball in pretty much the only place he could.

He seems to be thriving, and moving up another level, in the way the manager seems to be encouraging his creativity.

Against such wondrous precision, the wayward profligacy of Salah stood out all the more.

Last season, Salah was as destructive as the Hazard of recent weeks. Now, the Egyptian can barely keep his shot or decisive touches level. He blazed one opportunity over, took another far too wide and then overhit a pass when Roberto Firmino was in a promising position.

It will inevitably bring questions – that were duly put to Jurgen Klopp – who eventually hauled him off. That itself would have been unthinkable in similar situations in such games last season.

“Salah is not injured,” the German explained. “I know people will make a fuss of it. It was not Mo's best game of his career 100%. But he constantly gets into situations and that makes him a world-class player. He wants to be decisive.

“It's like a bike. It's not that you wake up in the morning and can't finish anymore. You just have to work for the moments until it is clicking. That's where he is at the moment.”

It was a difficult afternoon for Salah

And that’s the wider point. Salah was probably at an unsustainable level of performance last season, which was always going to level out. The abrupt nature of how it was ended, in that controversial moment with Sergio Ramos in Kyiv, can further tilt things; the adjustment post-injury also requiring a bit of readjustment to your own movement.

Either way, Salah has been jolted out of last season’s form.

It is a thrilling level of form that has been more than taken up by Hazard.

The Belgian can maybe fire Chelsea to something resembling a title challenge, but a title is dubious, and that raises a wider point.

As Daniel Sturridge’s goal illustrated, Liverpool might have enough about them to still surge for a title without Salah on that kind of stunning form. They themselves are probably going to have to adjust to a reduced goal rate from the striker.

It’s just that, against a Manchester City as supremely orchestrated as this, they’re probably going to need everyone firing at 100%. They could do with someone firing at Hazard levels.

It might at least make the race that bit more interesting. Chelsea currently have someone performing at a level that no one else does.

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