Is Liverpool's Sadio Mané the most exciting player in the league?
When Jürgen Klopp took over at Liverpool about a year ago, the excitement was palpable at Anfield. Klopp would bring fast, aggressive and uniquely watchable football to a historic club that desperately needed new energy. Thus far, the Reds have to be ecstatic with their new manager and how he’s positively impacted players like Philippe Coutinho and Jordan Henderson. Still, one surprising player has risen to the top for Liverpool, becoming one of the most electric players in the Premier League.
Sadio Mané has been somewhat of a journeyman in his career, including three years in the Austrian Bundesliga for RB Salzburg and two years for Southampton. Then, this summer, Liverpool acquired the 24-year-old winger on a £34 million transfer. He had played well for a solid Southampton squad, scoring a total of 25 goals in all competitions there. The buzz around Liverpool affirmed that he was an encouraging addition, but most of the anticipation centered around Coutinho, Daniel Sturridge and Roberto Firmino excelling in Klopp’s high-pressing style.
Now, nearly two months into the season, Mané has become the stunning catalyst for Liverpool’s fast start. He has three goals and an assist in five league appearances and sports a sterling 8.08 rating. Moreover, he has a knack for drawing fouls—12 in five matches—and is top five in the league at dribbles per game with 3.6.
It’s no wonder that in Liverpool’s worst performance of the season, a 2-0 defeat at Burnley, Mané didn’t play because of an injury. In that match, the Reds had 26 shots, just five on goal, and 80 percent time of possession. They still weren’t able to bag a goal, and two successful Burnley counter-attacks were enough to doom Liverpool to an embarrassing defeat just a week after their four-goal offensive explosion at Arsenal.
The worst of Klopp’s system comes out when players pass and pass without any incision, purpose or dynamism. For Liverpool to approach the success Klopp had with Borussia Dortmund, it’s necessary to have clinical, intelligent passing that contributes to a goal-scoring opportunity. Aimlessly passing the ball back and forth cripples what the system is meant to accomplish.
Mané is one of the most important pieces of the jigsaw for Klopp. He has the ability to take a pass in the final third, either cut inside or make a devastating dribble and deftly create a viable chance for a goal. Mané may not be on the ball as much as Henderson or James Milner, but he does so much with the touches he does get.
However, more memorably, Mané readily passes the eye test. Watching him in a Reds uniform this season has been a thrill. He is such a fluid dribbler that it’s impossible not to lean forward in your seat when he gets some space on the outside. His touch on the ball is tremendous, and he’s already made fools of a few defenders this season.
Mané is also an accurate goal-scorer—four goals on seven attempts-on-goal in all competitions—and smartly gets himself into open spaces for the best possible shot. Furthermore, he can strike from out of nowhere; he scored on a beautiful twisting shot at the edge of the box against Hull and outran two Arsenal defenders, cut inside, and perfectly placed a shot as he was falling way to beat Petr Cech.
Yet, the most beautiful and lethal aspect of his game is his speed. He continually flies by defenders, and his cuts sometimes look like world-class basketball moves. It’s difficult to name a more elusive player in the league than Mané—the way he moves in and out of players with the ball with such pace is astonishing. He’s surprisingly strong, too, given his smaller height (1.75) and can’t be bullied off the ball like other similar players at his position.
So, as Kevin De Bruyne and Alexis Sánchez have been hogging the spotlight for their own impressive, top-four clubs, Mané is steadily becoming a must-see every match. If Liverpool stays in the title race, he’ll certainly enter the conversation for Player of the Year with the aforementioned players. For now, he’s the silky smooth engine that turns Klopp’s purring offense into a high-gear runaway train, a deadly attack that maybe no other club in the league can rival.
Featured Image: All rights reserved by Paul Vause
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