The Senegalese so often proved the Reds man for a great opportunity, but was almost anonymous in a loss to Real Madrid on Tuesday
Is it time to talk about Sadio Mane?
The Liverpool star resulted in a frustrated figure during the defeat by Real Madrid on Tuesday night, and no wonder.
To say it wasn’t his night would be an understatement.
This is Mane’s domain in recent years. The final phase of the Champions League sought to get the best out of him. In 19 knockout matches for Liverpool he scored 12 goals. Only Cristiano Ronaldo scored more in the same period.
Great games invite great players, and Mane certainly was; a passenger for Jurgen Klopp on several occasions.
Its shape, however, later became worrying. With just three goals in his last 15 games and just seven in 27 Premier League games this season, the Reds ’main man has started shooting.
Klopp currently has many puzzles to solve at Anfield, and the revitalization of his Senegalese star should be high on the list …
Frustration in Madrid
Mane fought badly against Real. He finished the game without scoring a single shot, in or out of the target, as he failed to fill a single key pass and lost all six air duels. Only Naby Keita, of Liverpool’s starting players, had less touch.
And Keita was, of course, replaced after only 42 minutes.
Mane’s frustration was clear. He looked tired, bulky, angry. His touch was heavy and the threat no. Right back Lucas Vazquez, a winger by profession and identified as a possible weak link before the game, managed easily.
After that, Klopp directed his anger at referee Felix Brych, whom he accused of having a “personal” problem with Mane because he failed to award a number of free kicks in favor of Liverpool, including one in the first half that Vazquez may have seen showed a red card.
“I didn’t understand what the referee did tonight,” the head of the Reds said at the press conference after the match. He confronted Brych at the last whistle to explain his feelings to the German official.
“I told him I thought he was being unfair to Sadie, that’s right,” Klopp added. “Whenever Sadio fell, he couldn’t get anything. That’s just not right. “
The Liverpool strikers have found themselves under the spotlight this season. After three years of brilliance, incredible numbers and stopping performances, Klopp’s stars of this notion have returned to a ‘more normal’ level.
Much of the discussion focused on the role of Robert Firmin. The Brazilian’s impact was immeasurable, and his lack of goals put a sharp focus as the Reds fell from the Premier League table.
The common consensus is that his place is under serious threat, especially when Diogo Jota is such an attractive start to life on Merseyside.
Mo Salah, meanwhile, was discussing his future, his happiness at Anfield. The Egyptian is constantly scoring – his shot against Real was his 27th in the campaign in all competitions – but that did not stop the rumors.
Mane, however, mostly flew under the radar. He still plays, but his performance has dropped significantly.
I’m sorry, but it’s time for Sadio to get off the team. I never thought I’d say that, but he’s miles away from it. #RMALFC
– Stephen Warnock⚽️📺🎙 (@ StephenWarnock3) April 6, 2021
“I’m sorry, but it’s time for Sadio to leave the team,” tweeted Stephen Warnock, a former Liverpool defender, after the defeat by Real Madrid. “I never thought I’d say that, but he’s miles away from it.”
Klopp will probably be a little more careful, but there is no doubt that he needs improvement if his side wants to save the season in the coming weeks.
What do the numbers say?
There is no doubt that Mane’s raw production has fallen. With just seven league goals and just 12 in all competitions, this is his least prolific scoring season since joining Liverpool in 2016. He has broken the 20-goal mark in each of his last three campaigns, but a certain race will do well this time around.
Still, a closer look suggests that not much has changed, that he continues to do the things he has always done, only with less success.
In fact, he is trying more shots in 90 minutes this season than he did last (3.03 vs 2.52). He also has more touches in the opponent’s ball for 90 (8.16 vs 7.09), and fills in more dribbles (2.87 for 90 vs 2.26). No striker has dribbled more than Mane in the Premier League this season.
He certainly influenced the games. Only five strikers – Harry Kane, Jamie Vardy, James Rodriguez, Che Adams and the relentless Salah – have created more ‘big chances’ this season than Mane. His four assists in the Premier League place him above those like Marcus Rashford, Riyad Mahrez, Raheem Sterling and Son Heung-min.
The real problem was his conversion rate. Mane currently scores an average of every 353 minutes in the Premier League, compared to one in 153 last season. His shot accuracy remains at around 50 percent, but the conversion rate has dropped dramatically, from 23.4% last season to just 9.21% this time.
Only four players – Patrick Bamford, Dominic Calvert-Lewin, Chris Wood and Timo Werner – missed more ‘big chances’ than the former Southampton man, although it should be noted that Salah, Vardy and even Kane, the league’s top scorer, are high on the that list.
Fatigue must be a factor. Mane will play his 40th club game of the season against Villa on Saturday. He has played in 171 of Liverpool’s last 188 Premier League and Champions League games.
“Warrior,” that’s how Pep Lijnders, the assistant manager, described him. Its permanence, like Salah’s, is crucial to the development of the Reds under Klopp. When they needed him, he was there.
They need him now, of course, but it seemed like the load of the last three seasons had caught up with him in recent months.
There are few players who combine speed, technique and strength like Mane, but late something was missing. He was a step slower, the touch weaker and certainly much less determined in the last third.
Perhaps, as Warnock suggested, the spell from the team would come in handy, allowing him to freshen up and reset and come back with renewed enthusiasm.
Or maybe we should trust him to make his way through the fall. Finally, the form is temporary and the teaching is permanent.
And there are few players who have the Sadio Mane class.