We're not quite sure when Liverpool get to redeem their free Southampton player, but with Sadio Mane reportedly only a medical away, the Saints have provided the Reds with five players in three summers. Is this one going to be a success? We analyse and predict with words and numbers.
DOB: 10/4/92 (24) | Height: 5'9" (1.75 meters)
2015-16 Season: 43 appearances
15 goals, 9 assists
This is going to be a long list.
First of all, Mané is an athlete. Conscious of the coded language implications of that statement, one of his foremost attributes is his elite speed. His low center of gravity and powerful first step provides him with a terrifying burst of pace, which he uses to run at defenders to great effect. Combined with his excellent close control and remarkable balance, he is a menace when on the ball, typically either going past his man or forcing the foul. His 2.7 dribbles per 90 is consistently top 15 in the league, and his 2.4 free kicks won is top 10. This is not to say that he is a head-down dribbler in the Jordon Ibe mold. His upright stance is in fact very reminiscent of Raheem Sterling, and his close control allows him to keep his head up and his eye out for teammates as he carries the ball forward. Nominally right-footed, the Senegalese international uses both feet well, and will dribble, shoot and pass with his left without hesitation, showing little preference. Physically strong, he uses his body excellently and can turn and sometimes bundle over bigger defenders by setting his feet and shifting his hips.
When attacking, Mané is a mobile player, moving into whatever space is available, whether wide or central, cutting inside or hugging the line, interchanging with teammates and looking for one-touch passing plays. While he has mostly played on the right for Southampton, he has also made appearances centrally and at striker, and at Red Bull Salzburg, he played almost entirely on the left, making him a versatile attacking piece.
He provides end product as well. A goal or assist every 153 minutes was good for 19th in the league last year, ahead of players like Philippe Coutinho, Christian Eriksen, Harry Kane, Erik Lamela, Wayne Rooney and Anthony Martial, and only a single contribution away from players like David Silva and Alexis Sanchez, all without being a regular set piece taker. His shot selection is excellent, with 77% of his shots taken from inside the box, leading to a good-for-a-non-striker conversion rate of 14.5%. This means that he rarely wastes possession near the opposition area with ill-advised long shots, preferring to recycle possession, take his man on, or look for the killer ball. Despite a reputation as a streaky player, he has only thrice gone more than three matches without a goal or assist.
Having played under Ronald Koeman, Mané is well-versed in the demands of a counter-pressing style, and he does his job defensively. His 3 ball recoveries per 90 minutes was more than Coutinho, but slightly fewer than Adam Lallana and Roberto Firmino. He tracks his fullback dilligently, and while no natural defender, understands where he needs to position himself to be of use defensively. When his team wins the ball, he immediately looks to transition to offense, and his direct running and passing is perfectly suited to a counter-attacking game.
His crossing is statistically excellent, with 1 in 23 being converted into a goal - on average, 1 in 71 crosses is converted - but at Southampton, he has had some dominant targets to aim for, so this is an ability that won't necessarily cross over to his life at Liverpool. His style of lofted or chipped crosses also tends to lend itself to big target men, of which he won't find many at his new club.
Mané can get overly elaborate with his dribbling and decisions at times, leading to unnecessary turnovers which will no doubt infuriate fans when they occur. Despite his strength, he lacks natural power in his strikes, which means no thunderbastards, and no expertise at set pieces, which the Reds are in dire need of.
Koeman raised questions about the 24-year old's attitude twice this winter, when Mané arrived late to a meeting amidst rampant transfer speculation surrounding the player. It is always hard to know how much stock to put in these kinds of reports, but it is worth keeping an eye on.
His ability to win free kicks has earned him a bit of an undeserved reputation as a diver, and while he does occasionally go down when he could've stayed on his feet due to his strength and balance, he is not a prime offender in this regard. The combination of unshakeable confidence in his play, rumoured attitude issues, and his being unmistakably African, does probably, in this writer's opinion, feed the diving narrative, which in turn feeds the others. Liverpool fans will be familiar with this process, having seen shades of it with Suarez, Sturridge and Balotelli in recent years, to mention a few. It does bring attention from opposition fans, media and referees though, and is thus worth noting.
Finally, as he is a Senegalese international, Liverpool must accept that they will lose Mané for the African Cup of Nations every two years. While unlikely to be a big deal in 2017, given that the competition takes place after the punishing holiday programme and the club aren't participating in European competition this year, it could cause trouble down the line when fixtures are congested and Klopp is in need of his full squad.
People will almost certainly gripe about the price - despite that it is most likely quite appropriate, given the current market and quality of the player - and that Mané is a Southampton player - despite those doing quite well under Jürgen Klopp - and that he isn't Mario Götze - which, you know, fine, Götze would be nice, but Sadio Mané is a terrific footballer who fills very specific needs in the Liverpool squad that even Götze might not. An athletically gifted right-side attacker with end product and Premier League experience from a system similar to the one employed at his new club. Alongside Coutinho and Firmino, he will provide a missing ingredient and hopefully become a raging success.