Liverpool meet Manchester United in a clash of two of the Premier League’s fiercest rivalries on Sunday, and it will also see two of the competition’s star forwards face off.
Cristiano Ronaldo’s move back to United was a sensational story late in the transfer window, and though the 36-year-old picked up where he left off in England back in 2009, it is Liverpool’s Mohamed Salah who has taken the limelight so far this season.
Salah leads the way with seven goals from eight league appearances in 2021-22, including two quite sensational strikes in his last two top-flight matches, against Manchester City and Watford respectively.
His efforts, which also include four assists, a tally so far bettered only by Ronaldo’s United team-mate Paul Pogba (seven), have helped Liverpool to five victories and three draws.
On Friday, Jurgen Klopp was asked in his pre-match news conference to compare Salah and Ronaldo, as two of the league’s – and indeed world football’s – best players.
“I never thought about that,” he said. “Why should we compare Cristiano Ronaldo and Mo Salah?
“Both are world-class players and that’s it. I would say, even though Cristiano Ronaldo’s left foot is not that bad, I’d say Mo’s left foot is probably better!
“Maybe then in the air Ronaldo is slightly better and his right foot is probably better! But speed wise they are both pretty quick, very desperate to score goals, so maybe that’s it but I really never thought properly about that and never really thought about it.”
While Klopp may not think to compare the duo, Stats Perform has used Opta data to assess how the star forwards stack up.
Premier League records
While Ronaldo always seemed set for stardom since bursting onto the scene under Alex Ferguson in 2003-04, Salah did have a rather more stagnated journey to becoming one of the top-flight’s best players, with the Egypt forward initially struggling at Chelsea after a move from Basel in January 2014.
He scored twice in 10 league appearances in his first half-season at Stamford Bridge but, under Jose Mourinho, played only three times in the competition in 2014-15 before loan moves to Fiorentina and Roma, the latter switch eventually being made permanent.
But in his first season at Liverpool in 2017-18, Salah broke Ronaldo’s record of 31 Premier League goals in a single campaign, scoring 32 times across 36 matches, averaging a strike every 91 minutes.
Salah’s shot conversion rate of 22.22 per cent that season (from 144 attempts in total) is the best either he or Ronaldo have managed in their Premier League careers.
In terms of assists, Salah has twice reached 10 for a campaign, in 2017-18 and Liverpool’s title-winning season of 2019-20. Ronaldo’s best figure of eight was recorded in 2006-07.
Klopp pointed to Ronaldo’s aerial prowess as an area where the Portugal star certainly edges out his Egyptian counterpart, and that is reflected in the data – the former Real Madrid man having scored 11 of his 87 Premier League goals with his head, compared to just six from Salah.
Salah has scored a remarkable 104 league goals from 166 appearances, while Ronaldo has scored his tally from 201 games in the competition.
The season so far…
Salah also edges the statistics when taking this season specifically into account. In all competitions, he has already netted 12 goals in 11 games, all of which have been starts, while Ronaldo has scored six times in eight matches.
Ronaldo has averaged a goal every 107 minutes, while Salah has done so every 80 minutes. The latter has also been involved in 16 goals compared to Ronaldo’s tally of six, with the Liverpool attacker crafting 25 chances for team-mates.
Much has been made of Ronaldo’s transformation into a penalty box poacher, though his 54 touches in the opposition area is some 39 fewer than Salah (93), perhaps speaking more to the differing styles of play between United and Liverpool.
Both players have outperformed their expected goals (xG), suggesting their finishing has been better than would be expected. Salah, however, is some three ahead (12 goals from an xG of 9.0), with Ronaldo’s six goals coming from an xG of 5.4.
Salah scored three goals in his two away games against United last season (two in the FA Cup, one in the Premier League), and he could become the first Liverpool player to net in three consecutive matches at Old Trafford.