Liverpool have enjoyed immense success over the past five years thanks to a squad filled with sensational players. The one who really kick-started the revolution under Jürgen Klopp is undoubtedly Sadio Mané. The Senegalese danger man quickly went from very good to legitimately world class after joining from Southampton. He has been quick with his feet and with his mind, forming a seemingly telepathic relationship with his strike partners Roberto Firmino and Mohamed Salah. His tremendous pace was only out shown by his tremendous work rate. His quiet calm belied the ferocious competitor that he is.
Now, sadly, it seems all but inevitable that Mané will be leaving Liverpool after six years with the club. He has reportedly told the club he wishes to move on this season, and Liverpool have set a €50M price tag. Bayern Munich seem very much to be in the drivers seat, but Liverpool are believed to have told the German club any move is contingent on finding a replacement first. Now the question becomes, what are Julian Ward and Liverpool thinking with regards to a replacement?
Mané spent much of his career with the Reds on the left wing, making a living driving down the flank and cutting into the box. More and more over the last two seasons, however, we saw Mané playing through the middle, and he was almost exclusively deployed in a central role the second half of this past season.
So, are Liverpool looking for a wide forward, a central striker, or someone who can do it all? Luis Diaz has featured plenty on the left wing since signing for Liverpool in the winter, and seems to have a good hold on the position at this point. He is not the same player that Sadio Mané is on the left at this point, but has the potential to grow into a special player in his own right.
Meanwhile, the club also has Diogo Jota who has been played both through the center as well as down the left flank. The Portuguese striker is a very different player than Mané or Diaz, being at his best when he can ghost into half spaces in the box to find finishes at the end of a move. He will certainly drop deeper and get involved at times, and has shown a penchant for a defense-splitting pass despite the narrative otherwise, but he is not one who is likely to be a regular outlet, whether with his back to goal or on the run in behind.
With those two players, along with veteran Roberto Firmino and youngster Fabio Carvalho also thrown into the mix, it will be very interesting to see whet type of player Julian Ward and Liverpool look for in a replacement for Mané. Do they recruit over the likes of Diaz or Jota, or do they look for a veteran to help fill minutes and allow those two to try and take ownership of their spots? Do they go with a pure wide forward or central striker, or try to find someone with similar versatility to Mané?
There are plenty of names to be thrown out there, however there is only one who comes close to touching the versatility, dynamism, and drive of Mané — RB Leipzig’s Christopher Nkunku. The 24-year old had a huge jump in output this season, scoring 20 goals and adding 13 assists in the Bundesliga, while notching 7 goals and 1 assist in the Champions League. He is widely considered on of the best young players in the world, and is already being linked with pretty much all the top teams around Europe, as well as Manchester United.
Darwin Nunez is a player who has been linked with Liverpool throughout the spring and is a name many Liverpool fans have shown excitement over, especially after his great showing against the Reds for Benfica in the Champions League. While Nunez has scored a lot of goals this past season, and has been deployed both through the center as well as as a wide forward on the left, he would need to round his game out to fit Liverpool’s style, or Klopp and co would have to tweak their tactics yet again to get the best out of Nunez.
There are likely other names who will be linked in the coming weeks, with the likes of Osman Dembele, Robert Lewandowski, and a host of other players very much out of the realm of reality being mooted (we’re looking at you, Harry Kane). Where Liverpool go with a potential replacement for Mané will be very interesting as it could signal the next tactical evolution of Jürgen Klopp’s Liverpool.
Regardless of who is brought in (assuming someone is), whoever is tasked with taking on the roles of Sadio Mané will have some massive shoes to fill.