When Sadio Mane signed for Liverpool in June for a fee of £34 million, a lot of eyebrows were raised by the fans and pundits.
The Senegal international’s quality was never in doubt. He had already proven himself to be one of the best goal-scoring wingers in the Premier League with Southampton.
However, Mane’s consistency and output from wide positions were always in doubt. Mane produced his best football in a central role for the Saints and therefore Klopp’s decision to sign him as a right sided winger sparked criticism.
A little over two months have passed since Mane arrived at Anfield and it is fair to say that the former Saints winger is perhaps the most influential player at the club right now. Such has been his impact.
Mane has not only added goals and flair to the Liverpool attack, he has added a new dimension to Liverpool’s right wing. A position which has been ineffective and poorly filled ever since Dirk Kuyt left the club.
In the pre-season as well as the Premier League and the cup games, Sadio Mane has been exceptional and has drawn comparisons with the former Liverpool striker Luis Suarez. The Uruguayan achieved legendary status at Anfield with his scintillating performances and commitment on the pitch.
And so far, Mane has followed the same path. Time will tell if the Senegalese forward can maintain such high standards over a long period of time, but for now, there is no doubt that he has the potential to be Liverpool’s best signing since Luis Suarez.
Here are a few reasons why we think so.
Speed of thought and action
Luis Suarez is one of top five forwards in world football and he did not achieve that status because of his lightning pace.
One of the best qualities that sets him apart from other players is his speed of thought. It is a similar case with Mane. The former Saints winger is not just a pace merchant. He is extremely intelligent and anticipates moves before they happen.
His movement, running through the channels, one-touch play, and passing has been inch perfect so far.
Against Arsenal, Barcelona, Burton, and Spurs, Mane’s footballing intelligence set him apart from all the other players on the pitch.
Furthermore, Mane has that lightning pace to execute his decisions as well.
Pochettino: “We need someone who has characteristics like we saw from Liverpool, like Mané, a player that can break the defensive line.”
— LFC Round Up (@LFCroundup) August 29, 2016
Improves players around him
Just like Suarez, Mane makes other players around him play and look better.
His intelligent runs in behind the defence has helped Liverpool on the counter. Players like Henderson and Coutinho can now pick out long passes from the deep.
Mane’s attacking ability has also taken a load off the shoulders of Nathaniel Clyne. The England full-back was constantly criticised for his contribution at the other end of the pitch last season. With makeshift wingers ahead of him, Clyne had to overlap a lot and share more attacking responsibilities.
With Mane taking care of the attacking duties now, Clyne has looked a lot more assured with his positioning and general confidence.
He has also given the likes of Firmino and Coutinho a much-needed outlet when being pressed in the opposition half. Mane has not only made life easier for his teammates, he is sharing their creative burden as well.
This has allowed other midfielders to get in the box and add goals to their game. (Example – Coutinho and Lallana’s late runs into the box against Arsenal. Both resulted in goals).
Technical and Physical attributes
Mane’s technical attributes hardly need mentioning. The Liverpool winger is blessed with superb finishing technique and close control.
His solo goal against Arsenal highlights everything that is good about him – Pace, power, technique and composure in front of the goal.
Despite his small frame, Mane is surprisingly strong on the ball and terrorised the opposition defenders in and around the box.
His omission against Burnley left Liverpool toothless in the attack.
Club captain Jordan Henderson claimed: “Obviously we missed him at the weekend”.
“We can’t just rely on Sadio but he’s been outstanding for us and he gives us something different”.
The Senegalese winger can play anywhere across the front four and deliver.
Much like Luis Suarez, Mane’s versatility will give Klopp a plethora of options and will allow him to accommodate more attacking players if the situation needs.
Mane’s versatility was perfectly described by his teammate Adam Lallana earlier this season: “Sadio can go down the outside, he can come inside, he has got a goal in his locker like he produced against Barcelona”.
“He’s a very good addition to the squad, believe me. I think we have got loads of different players who can play loads of different positions.”
“The manager has got decisions to make but it is great for the squad, to have that competition for places.”
Above all, Sadio Mane is a team player.
Ever since he joined Liverpool, Mane has worked harder than any attacker in the side.
With him in the side, Liverpool have not only improved going forward, his tendency to track back, press and tackle has helped the defenders as well.
When Klopp joined Liverpool, he emphasized the need to defend from the front. Mane, Firmino and Coutinho now form that first line of press. It not only helps Liverpool defenders at the back, it also helps them create chances on the counter.
Sadio Mane vs Arsenal
3 shots on target
Superb debut! pic.twitter.com/AhtCkeDUAT
— LFC Stats (@LFCData) August 15, 2016
Just like Suarez, Mane’s dedication to work hard for the team has already turned him into a major asset for the Merseyside club.