Jose Mourinho took less than 24 hours to replace the departed Juan Mata on Sunday afternoon by adding Mohamed Salah to the Chelsea ranks. The 21-year-old arrives from FC Basel in a deal reported to be in the region of £11m, with the London club beating long-time suitors Liverpool for the Egyptian’s signature:
In a busy winter window, Salah is the third player to arrive at Stamford Bridge, following the earlier acquisition of Nemanja Matic and Bertrand Traore. Mourinho, as always, had plenty to say on the matter and despite losing a player of Mata’s calibre, seems more than content with the versatile Salah’s addition to his first-team squad:
“I like the fact that he can play the same way our attacking players do, which is players with adaptability, to play right, left or behind the striker. He’s young, he’s fast, he’s creative, he’s enthusiastic. When we analysed him he looks the kind of humble personality on the pitch, ready to work for the team and to work and to adapt himself to a new life. We think with him and André Schürrle, Eden Hazard, Oscar and Willian we will be fine. We lose an experienced top player like Juan Mata but we bring in a young player with great potential. Hopefully he comes and hopefully with the talented players we have around in the same positions we all can develop together.”
A product of the El Mokawloon youth system in his native country, Salah progressed through the ranks to make his debut for the club in May 2010. After notching four goals in his first 23 league matches, he stepped up another level in 2011/12 and produced seven goals and a trio of assists in just 15 appearances before the remainder of the season was cancelled as a result of the Port Said Stadium disaster.
The five foot nine inch wideman then moved to Europe, joining Basel in June 2012 on a four-year contract. Over a season-and-a-half with the Swiss outfit, he returned nine goals and nine assists in 47 league games and also impressed in domestic and European cup matches, with 11 goals and eight assists over 32 appearances – including a goal in both group games against his new club in the Champions League earlier this term.
On the international stage, Salah has turned out for Egypt on 45 occasions, at Under 20, Under 23 and senior level, finding the net on 21 occasions and providing 15 assists.
Mourinho may have initially hailed the new boy’s ability to play through the middle but it seems far more likely that Salah will be vying for a place on the flank. After the Egyptian’s acquisition was confirmed, the Blues boss suggested Oscar will continue to be his preferred choice for the role in “the hole”:
“We tried to go for a young player, a left-footed player, and a fast player with the ball. He is the kind of top player who likes to get behind players so I think he was a good option. Juan is not comfortable on the sides, he tried very hard there and he did quite well in some matches, playing from the right, but it is not his natural habitat. I’ll build a team around Oscar in that position.”
At the moment, then, it seems Hazard will remain as near to nailed-on as we can expect – regardless of formation or competition for places, the Belgian is pretty much an automatic starter. Oscar’s prospects will only be diminished on the rare occasion Mourinho rolls out a 4-3-3 system to bolster his central midfield – when the Blues operate with their familiar 4-2-3-1, his starting berth looks secure.
Essentially, Salah looks set to enter a three-way fight with Willian and Schurrle for the remaining role on the flank, then. Certainly, if Mourinho’s treatment of the latter two is anything to go by, Salah could well face settling-in period over the next few months as his manager looks to integrate him within the squad. Despite splashing the cash on the above-mentioned duo in the previous transfer window, Mourinho has remained cautious with their game time – Willian has eight starts, whilst Schurrle has featured in the first XI on seven of the opening 22 Gameweeks.
Setting you back 6.5 in Fantasy Premier League (FPL) and 7.1 in the Sky Sports game, the young Egyptian faces a tough task to earn our Fantasy attentions, in spite of a relatively favourable price tag. Game time may arrive from the bench more often than not, but – in a similar situation to Mata at United – Salah’s domestic minutes could be boosted by the fact he is ineligible to play in the Champions League this season, having already turned out for Basel. With a number of mid-priced options offering guaranteed starts and consistent attacking returns, however, it seems unlikely the Egyptian, for all his undoubted talents, will be on many a Fantasy radar for the short-term, at least.