3 goals, 2 assists: Chelsea loanee, Spurs-linked striker form deadly duo

Mohamed Salah and Khouma Babacar combined brilliantly to lead Fiorentina to a 3-1 victory over Sassuolo.

When Juan Cuadrado left Fiorentina for Chelsea in January, there were plenty of questions about how the Viola would cope with losing their star man.

Even with the Colombian in the ranks, the Tuscan side looked stagnant. The free-flowing football previously played under Vincenzo Montella had somehow escaped his squad.

But football, of course, is a funny old game in which traditional logic often doesn’t apply. Such rings true in Fiorentina’s case.

Since Cuadrado’s departure in late January, the Viola are unbeaten. They progressed to the Coppa Italia semi-finals at Roma’s expense and reinvigorated their chase for Champions League football in Serie A.

And the performance put in by Montella’s men on Saturday against Sassuolo was their most impressive yet in Cuadrado’s absence, fuelled in part by the Colombian’s successor.

Mohamed Salah got his feet wet in a Viola shirt in last week’s 3-2 win over Atalanta, playing 25 minutes and giving a good account of himself.

It was enough to convince Montella to start the Egyptian for the visit to the Mapei Stadium to face Sassuolo. The Italian coach will certainly be happy he did.

The Chelsea loanee started off superbly, testing Neroverdi goalkeeper Andrea Consigli within the opening minute and setting up a pair of chances.

On the half-hour mark he would open the scoring with a cool finish after being played in on goal by an audacious flicked assist from Khouma Babacar.

Salah generously repaid the favour just a few minutes later. Salah picked out Babacar in the middle of the penalty area, who rolled Paolo Cannavaro and lashed past Consigli.

With less than a half of football alongside each other under their belts, the pair were already looking like a deadly duo that could make the Viola faithful forget about Cuadrado.

In the second half Babacar completed his brace as Salah continued to influence proceedings.

The Senegalese finished the day with two goals, an assist, three key passes and four shots on goal. Salah saw out his 82-minute shift with his debut goal, one assist, three efforts on frame and two chances create.

Both players were dynamic, more so than ever when combining in attack. Their cooperative efforts worked to devastating effect, with Alessandro Diamanti in support.

Montella chose to send his men out in a flexible 4-3-3 rather than his customary 3-5-2, with Salah on the left, Babacar in the middle, and Diamanti on the right wing – often coming central to drop in behind the two.

This lessened the defensive responsibility on Salah’s shoulders – an area Cuadrado excelled in as a wing-back in the 3-5-2 – and gave Babacar the perfect foil to play off of.

The Viola have always had high hopes for the Senegalese, who Calciomercato linked with strong interest from Liverpool and Tottenham Hotspur in December.

Babacar’s agent told the Italian outlet that the striker is pleased with his current situation in Florence, however, meaning the Premier league duo would have to redouble their efforts in order to pry him loose.

But Fiorentina will be eager to lock him down after a display such as Saturday’s, with talks already underway on a contract extension for the 21-year-old.

As for Salah, the Egyptian already looks to be finding his feet in Tuscany, making an early case for Fiorentina to take up the option to make his move from Chelsea permanent.

Babacar and Salah’s burgeoning partnership is exactly what Fiorentina needed in waving goodbye to Cuadrado, and Montella will be keen to keep them working side-by-side based on the evidence seen in the 3-1 dismantling of Sassuolo.

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