Even in this world of saturated sports sponsorship, there is no trophy and no presentation for the title of ‘best signing of the season’ but if there was, then Liverpool’s Mohamed Salah and Chelsea’s Alvaro Morata would be in serious contention for the corporately-ribboned silverware going into this weekend’s Premier League showdown at Anfield.
Choosing the right player in the summer transfer window is an inexact science, one which can leave managerial heads on the block when it goes wrong but which can transform a team’s fortunes when the new arrival makes an instant impact; and luckily for Jurgen Klopp and Antonio Conte, they have made some very good decisions in 2017.
On the face of it, neither Salah or Morata arrived in England as guaranteed successes, or even to universal fanfare.
Salah had looked excellent at Roma but was largely remembered in the Premier League for a rather miserable 18-month stay at Chelsea in which he managed only six Premier League starts and two goals before being sold to Italy in July 2016.
Morata, meanwhile, was highly prized but arrived in London having made more appearances from the bench than from the start for both Real Madrid and Juventus — prompting suggestions he was not yet a proven talent.
Both players, it has to be said, have answered their critics during the opening four months of the season, not only with the way they have played but also the ease they have adapted to the high pace of Premier League football.
The stats make it difficult to divide them: Salah’s pace, finishing, and finesse has seen him score 13 goals and provide three assists for Liverpool while Morata now has 12 goals and four assists for Chelsea despite initial fears that he may struggle to cope with playing in his manager’s famed 3-5-2 formation.
“He is an important player for us,” Conte said of Morata on the eve of the Liverpool game.
“In our system, the striker is a figure very important, a reference point for the system. And for this reason, Alvaro is always involved in our chances. Sometimes he scores, sometimes he makes an assist for his team mate.
“To play this league for a striker is not simple because this league is very tough and also it is very different compared with the previous league that he played in, in Italy and Spain.
“But he showed great commitment and proved that he is a clever person to adapt himself to this league.”
What is evident is that Morata, although he has proved surprisingly adapt at scoring with his head, is very different to the aggressive, snarling figure of Diego Costa who went before him; Chelsea have not replaced like with like.
“He is different, yes, but we are talking about two important strikers,” said Conte, who famously fell out with Costa before engineering the Spanish international’s departure. “I don’t like to speak about players of other teams and now I like to speak about Alvaro. But I repeat, two very good strikers, two very important strikers.”
Conte is similarly reluctant to compare Morata and Salah, especially as they could have been teammates had Jose Mourinho not given up on the Liverpool winger a little to soon.
“That was in the past, he was very young and he has developed a lot as a player since then,” the Chelsea manager said. “It’s not right to answer about the past but I like the player. I know him very well because he played in Italy for many years. He is a good player and very dangerous. He is a technical player but at the same time very fast and strong. Good in one v ones and also very good to finish.
“His start to the season was important because he is scoring a lot of goals and makes a lot of assists during the game. His start was very positive. For Alvaro, it was the same. To my team and for me, it was very important for Alvaro to have an impressive start in this league and he has done.”
Chelsea sold Salah to Roma for just €15m and that seems a big mistake now, given his influence on a Liverpool team which has nurtured his talent, although Klopp has been quick to insist the 25-year-old has nothing to prove to Chelsea fans at Anfield today.
“He was very young in a very strong team and didn’t come through. That happens often,” Klopp said.
“Another player similar is Kevin de Bruyne and he is not doing too bad now. Nobody is to blame and for sure not Mo. He has improved a lot, especially physically-wise. I don’t think he has to prove something and I don’t think he sees it like that.”
Even so, getting one over Morata at Anfield would put the Egyptian on the way to that fictitious ‘signing of the season’ trophy.
The likes of Manchester City goalkeeper Ederson and Manchester United striker Romelu Lukaku may have something to say about it in the long term, of course, but it makes for a fascinating duel this evening.
PaperTalk: Can Nemo dethrone Crokes and what can be done with internet trolls?
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved