Distance, the cliché goes, makes the heart grow fonder. For Liverpool’s new no. 3, it is the closeness that has helped him to better appreciate his new teammates.
Recently, Fabinho was asked of his impressions of his teammates. Speaking at length, he gave the typical platitudes that they were all supremely talented and gifted players. When speaking about Sadio Mane, however, the midfielder had some rather kind things to say.
First, he started off with yet another typical response in such interviews: that he’d kept up with Sadio by watching him play on the tele as often as possible. But then he left these rather more specific bites for people to hang on:
“Sadio Mane is an excellent player. He is very fast and very intelligent. He has everything to continue growing to become one of the best players in the world. I hope he continues with us for a long time. It is a pleasure to play alongside him.”
It seems, then, that Fabinho thinks Mané is the total package as a player and, considering his successful shift to the Coutinho role since the latter’s departure to Barcelona during last season’s Winter Transfer Window, that appraisal seems more than fair. Already well known for having pace and technique, the Senegalese forward has taken this opportunity to showcase his vision and playmaking ability. Though the attack has sometimes seemed a bit stilted this season, Mané’s contributions to ball progression and in knitting the attack remain vitally important.
Almost a year ago, I wrote about the harmonics of the attacking three and how it was sometimes difficult to parse out who was most important. While I may have my favorites in this discussion, I still think that piece holds up in that it’s hard not only to identify players of their quality, but also of their complementary skill sets. For all the talk of Mohamed Salah’s golden boots and Roberto Firmino’s magic movement and manic workrate, it’s tough to argue against Sadio’s unique blend of vision and pace when considering who is responsible for keeping everything ticking over.
And maybe that’s the point: for a club steeped in the vision of the collective over the individual, and being helmed by a manager who embodies that team ethic perhaps better than any other of his colleagues in the world game, it only makes sense that the tactical deployments of Liverpool’s Big Three represent a shared and blended aesthetic as opposed to one that prioritizes one attacking focal point. Because one might be able to game-plan for Bobby or perhaps shift the defending assignments towards Mo, but when you’ve got to contend with a complete attacker like Sadio on top of all of that, then it becomes a long day in the office for any defenders unlucky enough to line up against them.