Sadio Mane’s five-year Liverpool contract begins this July. The 24-year-old winger; who moved from Southampton in a £30 million transfer, is Jurgen Klopp’s fourth signing of the summer after Loris Karius, Joel Matip and Marko Grujic. The Senegalese international has a record of 25 goals in 75 appearances for the Saints, offering some spectacular moments including the quickest hat-trick in Premier League history and another hat-trick against Manchester City last season.
Can the young winger make such an impact and more at Liverpool, and in doing so, what will Liverpool’s team look like next season to get the best out of the forward, and who will lose game time?
With Liverpool containing a variety of quality forwards, it is difficult to predict what The Reds’ front-line will look like next season. Presuming Jurgen Klopp sticks with the formation he used towards the end of last season, with Philippe Coutinho and Roberto Firmino either side of Daniel Sturridge/Divock Origi, Sadio Mane could start the season on the bench until one of the front three begins to lose form.
Alternatively, Klopp could push Coutinho further back into a central attacking midfield berth. This would allow for a front three of Firmino, Mane and Sturridge, with Emre Can alongside one of new signing Grujic, Jordan Henderson or James Milner in the heart of midfield. Indeed, during Liverpool’s tie against Borussia Dortmund in the Europa League last season, Klopp played Can, Henderson and Lallana in midfield, behind Coutinho, Firmino and Sturridge. Pushing The Reds’ number 10 back as he pushed Lallana back in that tie could be the answer to making these players work in this formation.
Being one of Liverpool’s most expensive signings ever, and indeed a player Klopp admitted watching for a long time, it is hard to see Mane not starting. In this case, there are plenty of players who will be putting in a shift during pre-season in order to avoid spending the majority of the time on the bench.
Lazar Markovic, returning from a loan spell with Fenerbahce, will be one of them. He will be eager to impress but may not get much game time in the Premier League, simply due to the wealth of options available to the former Dortmund coach. The Serbian could be reduced to cup matches and will be looking to take his opportunity.
A player in a similar situation is Jordan Ibe. The 22-year-old, after being recalled by Brendan Rodgers in 2015, has made a positive impact to his Liverpool career since then. The youngster started against Arsenal in the 3-3 draw in January, although he played less towards the end of the season. Both of these wingers could struggle with the signing of Mane now confirmed, despite the fact that width is not the most prevalent of traits in Liverpool’s squad.
It will also be interesting to see how Klopp deals with Adam Lallana. Arguably England’s best player at the Euros, the ex-Southampton man will be going into the 2016/17 campaign looking to press on with his Liverpool career. Seven goals and seven assists last term is something that Lallana would look to improve upon, although these are not the worst statistics in the world, and he did develop into a fan favourite towards the end of the year. Playing in midfield for some fixtures, while playing in the front three for others; including against Arsenal when Firmino was being used as a false nine in January, Lallana will probably find himself once again being swapped about in different positions.
It could be a battle between fellow England midfielders James Milner and Jordan Henderson for a midfield role, with Emre Can and Marko Grujic also in contention for a midfield slot. In the front line, Lallana may have to displace the Brazilian Roberto Firmino in order to secure some game time alongside Sturridge and Mane.
Another interesting; but positive, dilemma for Klopp will be the strikers. Mane could technically play as an archetypal forward, as he has done for Southampton. Failing that, Sturridge and Origi are joined by Mario Balotelli, Christian Benteke and Danny Ings up front. Presuming that Balotelli completes a move away, that still leaves Benteke and Ings, even if Benteke is linked with a move himself. The Belgian’s price tag could be the primary stumbling block in this move.
Origi started plenty of games last season, and as Sturridge is still considered to be exceptionally prone to injury despite his recent period of continued fitness, the former Lille youngster could expect to do so again. Although, as the season develops, Ings should expect to come back into the fold after regaining full match fitness following last year’s season-ending injury.
Tipped to do well in a Klopp team, the former Burnley forward could find himself becoming central in Klopp’s thinking, allowing a front three of Firmino/Lallana, Ings and Mane. This would promote quick pressing, alongside incredible movement and pace on the counter-attack. With an ability to play on the wing, both Ings and Sturridge could swap roles with Mane, or even make way for a more direct striker in Origi or Benteke.
Whatever the outcome, Liverpool and Klopp have some fascinating challenges to overcome next season, and a positive amount of depth to consider in almost every position. Sadio Mane looks to have joined a team that has the potential to get the best out of him, unleashing his power, pace and skill.
There may be a degree of shuffling around to get Mane in the team, but all the players have the potential to work with Klopp rather than against him, and make it a thoroughly exciting season for Mane, and for Liverpool.
By Kiyle Tesh
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