Liverpool's Egyptian midfielder Mohamed Salah scores their fourth goal, his third, from the penalty spot during the English Premier League football match between Liverpool and Leeds United at Anfield in Liverpool. (AFP)

Mohamed Salah sets the Premier standard for Arab stars


LONDON: Mohamed Salah’s opening day hat-trick did not just give Liverpool a thrilling 4-3 win over Leeds United at Anfield on Saturday, it set the standard for fellow Arab stars, such as Hakim Ziyech of Chelsea and Manchester City’s Riyad Mahrez, to follow for the rest of the English Premier League season.

Salah’s three strikes meant that he became the second-fastest player in the competition’s history to reach 50 goals at home, with only Alan Shearer making his half-century faster; needing 47 games to the Egyptian’s 63. Salah also became the first player to score in the opening fixture of four consecutive Premier League seasons while playing for the same club.

“He’s a very special player, a very very special player,” said relieved Liverpool coach, Jurgen Klopp. “He put three more goals on his score list but the performance around was absolutely exceptional in a game like this. He caused the opponent massive problems. With all the good performances Mo had for us obviously, this was, for sure, one of the better ones. Long may it continue.”

It will. As well as his German boss, fans of the English Premier League around the world have grown accustomed to Salah’s brilliance and consistency, but it is now time for Ziyech to show what he can do at Chelsea, once the winger recovers from a knock.

It may be difficult for Ziyech, or anyone else for that matter, to match Salah’s exploits in England, but the Moroccan’s first target has to be on doing something that even the Egyptian could not do — be a success at Chelsea.

Salah joined the London team from Swiss side FC Basel in January 2014, and made just 13 Premier League appearances for the Blues before moving to Fiorentina in Italy on loan just 13 months later.

Ziyech has already impressed at Stamford Bridge, however. He shone for Dutch team Ajax during last season’s UEFA Champions League’s 4-4 draw, convincing Chelsea boss Frank Lampard that he had the quality to perform in England.

In February he agreed to head to London at the end of the season in a deal reported to be worth around $50 million. Ziyech may miss Chelsea’s opening fixture against Brighton and Hove Albion on Monday, but is expected to feature soon.

Like most players who come out of Ajax, the Moroccan loves to attack. “He has the ability to make and score goals,” said Lampard. “He has the quality we have sometimes been missing with the final pass and also taking chances. He ticks lots of boxes.”

Chelsea have been the biggest spenders in Europe so far this summer, and there is pressure on the team, which finished fourth last season, to mount a serious challenge for the title.

If Ziyech can inspire the Blues to the championship, then the top three Arab players in England will all have a winner’s medal.

Salah helped Liverpool to the title last season, while Algeria’s biggest star, Mahrez, is one of a select group of players to win the Premier League with two different clubs: Leicester City in 2016 and Manchester City three years later.

The winger was one of the best performers last season for Pep Guardiola. But despite 11 goals and nine assists, Mahrez and the star-studded team had to watch a dominant Liverpool take the trophy.

It means that City are hungrier than ever this time around.

The Algerian’s pre-season has been an interesting one. In early September, the 29-year-old tested positive for coronavirus and is currently self-isolating. Not only that, but he has been linked with a move to Spanish champions, Real Madrid.

City will not want to lose one of the league’s premier attacking talents. Salah has also been linked with Barcelona, and Liverpool will fight hard to prevent any move for the Egyptian.

The early action from the 2020-21 English Premier League season shows they need him.

Leeds have demonstrated that, of the promoted teams, they are the least likely to sit back and lie down. Arsenal started strongly with a comfortable 3-0 win over Fulham, while Newcastle United picked up a valuable 2-0 victory at West Ham United.

On Sunday, Mahrez’s former attacking partner Jamie Vardy scored twice as Leicester defeated West Bromwich Albion 3-0, while Tottenham Hotspur lost 1-0 at home to Everton, thanks to a second half goal from Dominic Calvert-Lewin.

The opening weekend belonged, however, to Salah, and it leaves the likes of Mahrez and Ziyech with much to live up to.