Liverpool ace Salah sets sights on elite status

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Liverpool’s Egyptian midfielder Mohamed Salah chases the ball during the English Premier League football match between Watford and Liverpool at Vicarage Road Stadium in Watford, north of London on August 12, 2017. The match ended 3-3.OLLY GREENWOOD / AFP

Mohamed Salah might not have won his duel with Cristiano Ronaldo during the international break, but the Liverpool winger is on the verge of being ranked alongside the Portugal superstar after his record-breaking season.

Salah was left frustrated by Ronaldo last week as he put Egypt ahead in their friendly against Portugal, only to see his rival strike twice in stoppage-time to steal the victory.

It was fitting that Salah was on target in his shoot-out with Ronaldo as there is a growing belief the Liverpool ace can emulate the incredible achievements of Real Madrid forward Ronaldo and Barcelona striker Lionel Messi.

Salah has already had a remarkable first season with Liverpool following his move from Roma and he heads into Saturday’s Premier League clash at Crystal Palace with more milestones in his sights.

The 25-year-old’s four-goal blitz in Liverpool’s 5-0 rout of Watford before the international break set a new record for the most goals by a Reds player in his debut campaign.

Salah, who has 12 goals in his last 10 appearances in all competitions, has scored in 20 of his 30 league matches this season.

If he scores against Palace he will equal the record for a 38-match season, set by Ronaldo in 2007-08 and Robin van Persie in 2012-13.

“You can look at Fernando Torres and Luis Suarez and he is up there with any Liverpool forward to have come in,” Reds legend Ian Rush says of Salah.

“He’s been absolutely amazing but the thing with Salah is that he is so down-to-earth as well.

“The game against Watford was the best I have ever seen him play, he was untouchable — not just because of his four goals but also because he wasn’t selfish and was trying to make goals for his team-mates.

“There are only two players I have seen that can play at that level, and that’s Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo.”

Salah has 36 goals in 41 games in all competitions, while Ronaldo has scored 37 in 35 and Messi 35 in 43.

Palace boss Roy Hodgson must find a way to subdue Salah this weekend as third placed Liverpool look to celebrate manager Jurgen Klopp’s 100th Premier League game.

Liverpool have lost just twice in their last 22 league matches, but with a Champions League quarter-final first leg date against Manchester City next week it will be fascinating to see if Salah is given the full 90 minutes or is rested.

“I’ve never worked with him so can only talk from having watched him. He must be delighted to be performing in that top bracket of players,” Hodgson said.

“The only way you can prevent quality players is through the collective work of the team.”

With Palace sitting just two points above the relegation zone, Hodgson is sweating over the fitness of influential Ivory Coast winger Wilfried Zaha.

Palace have lost all nine league matches Zaha has missed this season and he is a doubt for the Liverpool clash after being unable to train in the international break.

Zaha limped off late in Palace’s 2-0 victory at Huddersfield earlier this month — his first start since returning from a knee ligaments injury — but has since had to rest.

“He has not really been doing any training with us to any great extent. Obviously we are nursing the knee problem that he has. He is one that we will have a look at,” Hodgson said.

“We hope that the knee will be OK but we have had to be very cautious with him after the Huddersfield game because he came back from injury a lot earlier than perhaps he should have done.”