Salah's return to top form is key to Liverpool's growing Premier League title hopes
It was Liverpool manager Bill Shankly who claimed that "form is temporary and class is permanent," but it is a statement that could have been dreamed up by Jurgen Klopp to describe Mohamed Salah.
The Liverpool forward has not had a bad season at Anfield by any means, but he was so exceptionally good during his first campaign at the club, in 2017-18, that he was always going to be measured to an impossible standard this time around. That has proven to be the case. Nobody has been talking up Salah's performance this season; instead, the narrative has been about him searching for last year's form, with the shoulder injury sustained in the Champions League final against Real Madrid often cited as a factor in his slow start.
Yet as Liverpool walked off the rain-soaked pitch at Molineux on Friday, after ensuring Liverpool retained top spot in the Premier League on Christmas Day by virtue of their 2-0 win against Wolverhampton Wanderers, Salah had also secured the distinction of becoming the league's leading scorer this season. His 11th goal of the campaign opened the scoring en route to a confident away win.
Salah is having such a disappointing season that he is only one goal clear of the pack in the race for the Premier League Golden Boot, so he clearly needs to raise his game! Just for good measure, his assist for Virgil van Dijk's second-half goal, which confirmed all three points, was his fifth in the league.
Last season, Salah scored 32 league goals and registered 10 assists but by this stage of last term, he had scored 14 goals, meaning he's not too far behind his rate of progress 12 months ago. But what happened next is why Salah is now having to produce almost superhuman displays simply to live up to sky-high expectations.
In the second half of last season, the former Chelsea forward accelerated away from the rest by scoring 18 league goals, but Liverpool still only finished fourth. Now, however, they are top of the tree at Christmas and it might require another Salah surge in the second half of the campaign to keep them ahead of champions Manchester City long enough for Liverpool to win their first league title since 1990.
Only twice in the past 10 years has the leader on Christmas Day failed to win the title, but the bad news for Liverpool is that on those two occasions, in 2008-09 and 2013-14, it was the Reds who were unable to see it through and finish on top.
If Klopp's Liverpool are to buck that trend, they will need Salah -- and van Dijk -- to stay fit and perform to their best in the second half of the season. Salah has perhaps already started to move into top gear.
By his standards, the 26-year-old did make a slow start to the season and the shoulder injury, which severely hampered his World Cup with Egypt, was serious enough to require time for him to make a full recovery. But he has now scored six goals in his last seven league games and the wheels are clearly beginning to turn freely again.
His goal at Molineux was a majestic finish that only a confident, world-class forward could score. Having raced to the edge of the 6-yard box to latch on to Fabinho's pass, Salah then sent a sublime strike past goalkeeper Rui Patricio with the outside of his left foot. It was the kind of finish that only the likes of Lionel Messi can produce on a regular basis, but Salah made it look easy.
His cross to van Dijk for the Dutch defender's goal was also the work of a master craftsman, with Salah taking one cushioned touch to kill a loose Wolves clearance before finding his teammate with his second touch.
Klopp is now deploying Salah as a central striker and he's thriving in the role, with his pace and movement proving too much for Wolves. But the key to Liverpool's title hopes is Salah remaining fit and in form and he could strike a crucial blow for their prospects over the Festive period, with games against Arsenal and Manchester City between now and the FA Cup third-round return to Molineux.
If Salah can continue his current hot streak by scoring against both those teams, Liverpool will back their much-improved defence to make any advantage pay. But make no mistake: Whatever happens, Salah is back. His form and class are there for all to see.