Will Mo Salah burn Stamford Bridge to repay Chelsea in kind?
The Premier League season was defined by Manchester City’s dominance. Mohamed Salah's unexpected impact at Liverpool has been nearly as fascinating. The 25-year-old Egyptian is the highest scorer in the league. Not bad for a Chelsea write-off. The former Basel man will try to lay a little Alanis Morissette on his old club:
And I'm here, to remind you
Of the mess you made when you sent me away
It's not fair, to deny ye
Of the cross you bear that you took from me
You, you, you oughta know
I don't know if he'll say 'ye', but you get the idea. He wants to demonstrate to Blues fans how wrong they were personally. Most people can’t forget how badly Salah played at Chelsea before being sold permanently to AS Roma, where he shone so brightly.
The Chelsea loan system has been criticised for years. It has been as much a failure as a success. For every Thibaut Courtois and Andreas Christensen who have come back to Stamford Bridge to great acclaim, there has been a Romelu Lukaku, Kevin de Bruyne, and Salah who have gone on to establish themselves as stars away from the club. Even now, it's 50/50 which group Michy Batshuayi and Tammy Abraham will join.
Salah was bought by José Mourinho from Basel in the 2013/14 season after lighting it up against the Blues in the previous season's Europa League. He made the perfect start in Chelsea Blue, scoring on his debut in the now-famous 6-0 drubbing over Arsenal. However, when the Egyptian failed to make an impression on Mourinho's plan, he was quickly sent on loan to Fiorentina, then Roma, whom he later joined permanently.
Chelsea are notorious for not giving young players sufficient opportunity to impress. What better chance for Salah to prove he has moved on from that chastising experience by scoring against Chelsea again, this time at the Bridge? While most Chelsea fans and other football stakeholders will say Salah would improve the Chelsea squad, there is a counterclaim that Chelsea have won two league titles and countless other trophies without the fleet-footed winger. Chelsea fans would have loved a forward trio of Eden Hazard, Alvaro Morata and Salah, a trident that would strike fear into any opposition defence. Instead, Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mane stand in for Hazard and Morata.
A return to the Premier League with Liverpool saw Salah emerge with a brilliant form and now it is time for Salah to play for his former team for the second time since he bid goodbye at Stamford Bridge
The abdicating champions head into the clash at Stamford Bridge high on confidence. They've won their last three and are looking forward to an FA Cup final against Manchester United in a fortnight. Antonio Conte changed the system at the club, following a bad run of results. Liverpool have strung together four wins and three draws since their last Premier League defeat, to United. The Reds also have a final in their future. Three weeks from now they'll be in Kyiv for a Champions League decider against holders Real Madrid. This match is Chelsea's last stand in a bid for a Champions League place next season. They must win to have any hope. To win, they must stop their exiled Pharaoh.
Salah has netted an astonishing 43 goals this season, the most by a Liverpool player since Luis Suarez netted over 30 in the 13/14 season. More could still come before season's end. Four will draw him level with club legend Ian Rush. His pace, dribbling, and most especially his finishing will pose a threat to Chelsea. He is high on confidence and looks like scoring every time he has the ball in the opposition half.
It promises to be a brilliant game on Sunday, but the added dimension of the Salah situation will make it more interesting. No victory will taste sweeter for the Egyptian.