Who is Liverpool’s most important attacking player? Go ahead, I dare you. Sadio Mane, Roberto Firmino, and Mohamed Salah, have formed an exciting and lethal attacking trident for Liverpool. While I’m not brave enough to pick one, let’s take a few minutes to celebrate just how important Sadio and his sneaky great smile is to this team after he played his 100th game in the Premier League with the Reds yesterday.
Big occasion and something on the line? Check. Guess who showed out? Sadio Mane celebrated his 100th appearance in style in a really tough game. He finished with aplomb on a beautiful counter attack, and earned a penalty in the dying minutes of the game which allowed James Milner to cement the win. The thing is, that’s the type of performance we expect from Sadio Mane in big games. When things are on the line, he delivers.
When Mane first came into the league with Southampton, he was considered by many to be a speed merchant. Anyone who’s spent more than a few minutes watching him could point out that this is a lazy narrative. Like Roberto Firmino, Mane sees the game extremely well and has a very well rounded game. Is Mane fast? Absolutely, but he doesn’t just push the ball past people and run after it. He does a fantastic job of varying his pace and his vision to set defenders up to beat them on the dribble. Over his career with Liverpool, he has averaged about 3 dribbles per game. When he beats players, he rarely finds himself running into cul-de-sacs, but instead uses his vision to move into spaces that allows him to combine with his fellow attackers. After Philippe Coutinho forced his move to Barcelona (insert your snarky comments here), Mane began sliding inside to play more as a number 10 and took on more of the creative playmaking duties. Liverpool’s attack didn’t falter, and indeed hit another level. It was no surprise that the next season he took over the number 10 kit. This type of game intelligence can also be seen in front of goal.
Sadio Mane has stayed hot to start this season after winning a share the Golden Boot with his African counterparts Mohamed Salah and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang last season. Through eight games in the league this year, Mane leads the team with five goals, and has chipped in with an assist. That’s good for a goal or assist about every 100 minutes. One of the most underrated things about the Senegalese striker is his shot selection. Of his 19 shots on the season, 14 have been in the penalty area. He has scored on 26% of his shots. For comparison, Mohamed Salah has scored on 15% of his shots (4 goals from 26 shots), and Roberto Firmino has converted on 12% of his shots (3 goals from 24 shots). Mane’s shot selection this season is in line with his average over his Liverpool career. This just goes to underscore how intelligent Mane is with the ball at his feet.
As if his offensive contributions aren’t impressive enough, Mane is much better on the defensive side of the game than he gets credit for. To this point in the season, he is second on the team in tackles. Yes, you read that right. He is second only to Fabinho with 15 tackles. He presses and he tracks back. He makes tackles all over the field. He also is a low-key practitioner of the dark arts, and isn’t afraid to let defenders know he’s there with physical challenges.
Sadio Mane is lethal on the dribble. He scores goals. He defends with a fervor you don’t normally see from an attacker. In this writer’s opinion, he’s one of the best players in the world. You don’t have to take my word for it, though. Several of the world’s best, including perennial Ballon D’Or winner Lionel Messi, have listed Mane as the best or one of the best in the world this past year. Just this past week, Cesc Fabregas tweeted out his appreciation for the Senegalese player.
Mané for me is top 3 players in the world and has been for a while. Top top level.— Cesc Fàbregas Soler (@cesc4official) October 2, 2019
We’re glad you and the rest of the world are catching on, Cesc.