Sadio Mané scored a goal in Liverpool’s massive 3-1 victory over Bayern Munich in the Champions League Round of 16 on Wednesday. In fact, the Reds’ no. 10 put two past Bayern ‘keeper Manuel Neuer. However, it’s the first of that brace everyone will remember, and it’s the opener that we want to spend some time to appreciate here today.
With 10 goals in his last 10 outings, Mané is the man in form at the moment. The Senegalese attacker went from indispensable talisman his first year at the club in 2016-17, to the least-heralded of the lethal front three alongside Mohamed Salah and Roberto Firmino in 2017-18, and now is the man once again, with seemingly all the answers at the business end of the current campaign.
He scores worldies, fluffs gimmes, and has a thing for scoring goals while falling down. Sadio Mané is the epitome of the “mercurial forward.”
But back to the goal. It’s a tale of three touches, really.
“I’ll watch [that] goal 500 times. It was outstanding what he did there.” – Jürgen Klopp
A quiet opening 25 minutes of the crucial second leg tie had been cagey and fairly low on quality for both sides when Virgil Van Dijk is given time on the ball and spots Mané split out wide left. The winger points to a spot in the middle third where he wants a pass played into and Van Dijk, good teammate that he is, willingly and excellently obliges, raking one of his trademark long balls over top of the Bayern midfield towards the box.
I: The Filthy Touch
With the ball in flight towards the Bayern penalty area, Mané races defender Rafinha to where his best guess says the ball might land.
This is a point worth emphasizing since up until about T-minus 0.5 seconds before Mané exhibits some filthy control to bring the pass down from the sky he is clearly LOOKING THE WRONG DIRECTION FOR THE BALL IN FLIGHT. He quite literally has no idea where the ball is up until the moment it reaches it foot.
But what a touch it was.
When you analyze it, it was the only touch that could’ve resulted in a goal. By halting his forward progress on a dime while touching the ball away from the goal mouth, Mané completely removed Rafinha from the picture, with the Brazilian continuing to fly by.
Not only that, but an onrushing Manuel Neuer suddenly found himself neutralized upon the realization that rather than bracing for a collision with the speeding forward in the box, the German is instead now deprived of the use of his hands and committed to leaving his area to challenge for the ball.
It is this touch that is truly the star of the move. It’s difficult to describe how incredible it truly was although James Milner, not one for superlatives, at various points labelled it “ridiculous” and “very naughty” in post-match comments. So you know it was good.
II: The Banter Touch
With the ball killed just on the edge of the area, Neuer continues with his advance, hesitating right as he reaches Mané as if knowing he doesn’t have enough room to put his hands on the ball without potentially falling outside of his area.
Mané, turns his back to goal to retrieve the ball. Feeling Neuer approaching on his left shoulder he fakes that direction, then in devilish swivel of his hips, touches the ball to his right and away, leaving the keeper completely lost.
“I wanted to stand right ahead of Mané,” Neuer tried to explain afterwards. “But his first touch was superb. If he does not control it perfectly, I am there [to take the ball]. Then he makes a great move.”
Whatever, dude. Nothing wrong with admitting that you got “got” by some pure filth and just leaving it at that.
III: The Scoring Touch
The final touch is the least flashy, but no less impressive. Having bamboozled two full internationals in his first two touches, Mané then ensures that the moment is etched in history by having the presence of mind to delicately chip the backtracking Rafinha without even looking at the goal to stun a boisterous Allianz Arena into silence.
While it wasn’t a 25-yard screamer or the sort of outrageous backheel the same player executed so brilliantly mere weeks ago against Watford, the pure instinct and technical skill required score that kind of goal in a mere three touches puts Mané’s strike on a level up there with some of the best ever scored in this competition.
Michael Owen in the halftime pundit’s booth, oddly enough, summarized it best in a gushing assessment:
“When the ball’s coming over your shoulder like that for you to just see and pick up the flight of that ball and not only that but to take a touch as perfect [as that]…it’s a goal of the highest quality.”
The highest quality indeed.