There are no prizes for guessing who the highest-polling midfielder was in our end-of-season vote.
And following last night’s injury in the Champions League final, it is perhaps a fitting time to dedicate our next team of the season article to Mohamed Salah.
The Egyptian’s fitness and availability for the World Cup is now shrouded in doubt. However, regardless of his participation in the tournament, Salah’s achievements in his debut Premier League campaign deserve another tribute.
He ended 2017/18 as the Golden Boot winner with 32 goals and broke Luis Suarez’s all-time Fantasy Premier League record, finishing on a total of 303 points. Salah also supplied 12 assists, the most by a Liverpool player this season.
Incredibly, the Egyptian delivered attacking returns in 75% of his 36 appearances, failing to record a goal or assist in only nine of those fixtures.
Salah’s average of 8.4 points per match was better than any player who made more than one league appearance, while he was the only Fantasy asset to feature ten or more times (11 in all) in FPL’s weekly Dream Team.
Starting the season at £9.0m, the same price as Philippe Coutinho and £0.5m cheaper than Sadio Mane, Salah kicked off his Liverpool career with a goal and assist in the Reds’ 3-3 draw at Watford.
Having surprisingly been benched for Liverpool’s subsequent league fixture against Crystal Palace, Salah then matched his opening day 11-point return in the Gameweek 3 win over Arsenal.
By that point, Fantasy managers were already starting to take notice.
Salah began the season with an ownership of 22.5%, featuring in 874,608 FPL teams from the off. His ownership – and price – rose immediately the following Gameweek, never again to dip below the one million mark.
Seven goals in four fixtures between Gameweeks 11 and 14 saw Salah’s price rise from £9.2m to £9.7m, with the former Roma winger breaking the £10.0m barrier ahead of Liverpool’s Gameweek 18 encounter against Bournemouth.
Salah’s attacking returns continued unabated throughout the season. The one-time Chelsea midfielder never failed to go more than two league games without recording a goal or assist, while a four-month run of scoring in every Liverpool home game between Boxing Day and late-April accounted for 104 points of his total score.
That sequence, of course, included four goals and an assist in Liverpool’s 5-1 win over Watford in Gameweek 31.
Salah’s 29 points, arriving in a blank Gameweek in which 88.8% of the top 10,000 FPL managers captained him, was the highest single Gameweek score by any Fantasy player this season.
Salah’s price peaked at £10.7m following this landmark return, finishing at £10.6m in Gameweek 38: a season-spanning increase of £1.6m was, unsurprisingly, the highest rise among all FPL players.
Come the end of the campaign, Salah was the most-owned player in FPL, sitting in 56.7% of squads. Transferred in 4,223,518 times across the season, only Harry Kane and Roberto Firmino earned more buyers over the 38 Gameweeks, though these two players also suffered a higher number of sales.
With many Fantasy managers having a sizeable amount of money tied up in Salah’s escalating value, the Egyptian was sold on only 2,661,455 occasions – almost half the number of sales that Kane experienced.
The list of impressive statistics rolls on.
Salah’s average of 91.3 minutes per goal was better than all other midfielders who made more than one appearance this season: Raheem Sterling’s next-best rate of a goal every 144 minutes provides some context as to the Egyptian’s incredible output.
Totals of 144 goal attempts, 113 shots inside the box, 66 shots on target and 43 big chances were also unsurpassed among FPL midfielders.
Salah was presented with a chance every 20.3 minutes, the lowest mean among midfielders who played more than 1,000 minutes of Premier League football in 2017/18, and had more penalty box touches than all other players in his classification.
No Liverpool midfielder made more successful dribbles (79), completed more key passes (62) or created more big chances (12) than Salah this season.
Despite all this, the FPL Bonus Points System (BPS) wasn’t particularly kind to Salah, however.
Only Watford’s Richarlison and Nordin Amrabat had inferior averages than Salah’s 17.6 minutes per Baseline BPS among midfielders, with Richarlison the only player in Salah’s classification to fire more shots off target.
Salah missed more big chances (23) than any other midfielder, while Wilfried Zaha, Dele Alli and Riyad Mahrez were the only three midfielders to be dispossessed on more occasions than Salah (143).
All these factors combined meant that, in spite of an outstanding debut year on Merseyside, the Liverpool winger earned bonus points in only 11 of the 24 matches he scored in.
First off, the bad news. A substantial price rise is inevitable next term, which could see Salah valued anywhere between £12.0m and £14.0m.
Debate also rages as to whether the Egyptian could be reclassified as a forward in 2018/19, mirroring Firmino’s transition from a midfielder at the start of this season.
Such a scenario – while not expected – would certainly change how we reassess our frontlines next season. It would impact heavily on Firmino; the Brazilian was the second most bought player (4.6m) in FPL after being reclassified as a forward in 2017/18.
Following his injury against Real Madrid, Salah could either be coming into the new campaign off the back of a World Cup campaign or perhaps even surgery. Either outcome could see his pre-season disrupted.
If Salah is available for the summer tournament – and the player himself is confident that this will be the case – a quick exit at the group stages for Hector Cuper’s men would be beneficial for Salah’s chances of being fit and firing for the start of next season.
Should injury keep him out, we would instead have to monitor his recovery and his pre-season involvement.
Having missed only two league fixtures in the whole of 2017/18, and starting 34 of those matches, Salah’s importance to Liverpool’s cause was obvious.
Similar to Harry Kane for Spurs, it would seem likely that only injury will keep him out of his manager’s line-ups. That pair could once again be crucial to our seasons and should continue to contest the armband on a regular basis.
Klopp’s summer spending spree looks all the more encouraging for Salah and Liverpool’s prospects next season. The Merseysiders have already acquired central midfielder Naby Keita’s arriving from RB Leipzig and have also been heavily linked to Lyon’s versatile playmaker Nabil Fekir.
Ultimately, if Salah can get near this season’s heroics, he’ll remain a must-have in many managers’ eyes regardless of the outlay.
The PFA Player of the Year’s total of 32 goals was the most any player has managed in a 38-match Premier League season. He also holds the record for scoring in the most fixtures during a Premier League season (24) and for the most teams scored against in a single campaign (17, a joint-high with Ian Wright and Robin van Persie).
That consistency, allied with 15 sets of double-digit hauls, made Salah one of the most secure captain picks in memory and edges him towards a “near essential” status in any Fantasy game.