Liverpool star Mohamed Salah’s spectacular form this season is thanks to the work he has put into his finishing and physique since moving to Anfield from Roma, according to Chelsea defender Antonio Rudiger.
Salah has scored 43 goals in 49 club appearances this season to help fire Liverpool to a first Champions League final since 2007 and third in the Premier League. His exploits have seen him voted PFA Player of the Year and FWA Footballer of the Year, and he is now a contender for the Ballon d’Or.
Rudiger will be the latest defender to try and stop Salah when Liverpool take on Chelsea at Stamford Bridge on Sunday and speaking to ESPN FC, the Germany international praised his former Roma teammate’s transformation since arriving on Merseyside last summer.
“He was already good at Roma, but there sometimes he [missed] some chances,” said Rudiger, speaking to promote Chelsea’s launch of a sensory room designed to enhance the enjoyment of families with children with additional sensory needs at Stamford Bridge.
“But this year he is very, very clinical. Also, I think he is physically more strong than he was in Rome.
“Salah is at the moment, for me, the best player in the league, but it is not only him that plays for Liverpool. It is [Roberto] Firmino, also [Sadio] Mane and the guys at the back. They have a good team, a great team, scoring a lot of goals.”
Asked if he thinks Salah should win the Ballon d’Or, Rudiger replied: “To be very honest, I hope for him [to win it]. But the Ballon d’Or? That is nothing [to me]. I cannot say anything about that.”
Sunday’s game will also reunite Rudiger with Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp, who was Borussia Dortmund coach from 2008 to 2011 when the defender was trying to make a name for himself in the club’s youth academy.
Rudiger never made a senior appearance for Dortmund and eventually left at the age of 18 to join Stuttgart, but he admitted that Klopp made a lasting impression on him during their limited conversations.
“I spoke to him twice, because he used to watch a lot of academy games,” Rudiger said of Klopp. “He invited me also to a friendly match. I was 16, or something like that. For me, it was important because at the time it was the Dortmund that won the league twice in a row.
“When he spoke to me at the friendly match I saw he’s a coach that gives you motivation, like you’re the best in the world. That’s very good and one of his best skills as a coach.
“There was almost no chance [to make my debut at Dortmund]. So for me, I was young but I was very realistic. I knew okay, maybe I need to go. It wasn’t a step back, maybe it was even a step forward. I went to a team that was a bit more low [in the table] but I was playing.”
Liam is ESPN FC’s Chelsea correspondent. Follow him on Twitter: @Liam_Twomey.