MOST Liverpool fans will already feel they know a lot about Sadio Mane from his time at Southampton, whereas Joël Matip — previously of Schalke — may be slightly less familiar. JOSH SEXTON spoke to African football expert Mansour Loum to get the international perspective on Jürgen Klopp’s new signings.
Mane is well known to the fans, however there have been questions marks over his best position. What do the Senegalese team believe to be his best position?
In my opinion, and according to many experts, Mane is best in an axial position behind the striker. Here, he will float around the main striker and use this role to drive at defenders using his speed. It is a role he has featured in at Southampton — excelling in particular in the Saints’ 3-1 win over Chelsea, linking up perfectly with Graziano Pellè. But, it is a position that works best in a specific system, so he would need to adapt. As coaches are increasingly playing less with one striker, he can be used on one particular side to take advantage of his pace. This is also the case in the national team.
Both have represented their countries on several occasions, where do they rank among the best players from Africa?
Matip is less known on the continent because he doesn’t feature often in the national team. He hasn’t been called up for Cameroon since the World Cup in 2014, but he is considered as one of the best defenders from the country — which is why the national side are trying to draft him back in.
As offensive players are often rated more highly, Mane has a good level of popularity in Africa, and other teams know that he is Senegal’s principal offensive threat. He came in 5th place at the last CAF African Player of the Year awards, which shows the level he is at. Although he is still perceived as somebody who has to improve and mature in order to become a player the calibre of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang — the winner of the award. But, like Yannick Bolasie and Yacine Brahimi, he is regarded as one of the players set to take over from Yaya Touré in terms of top African talent.
The fans’ main concerns are about both players being called up for the Africa Cup of Nations, can we expect to see both of them feature heavily?
If the situation remains the same, Matip will most likely stay in England to focus on his performances with Liverpool, and will not go to the Africa Cup of Nations. As things currently stand, it is very likely that nothing will change in this regard. For Mane, the fans should expect to see him go to the AFCON, even if he is slightly injured — as was the case for the 2015 tournament. The fans, and the coach, are relying on him because he is a key player in the team, and he will be keen to put behind their elimination in the first round in last year.
As it stands Sadio Mané will miss 4 #lfc league games at most for the 2017 AFCON: Man Utd (A), Swansea (H), Chelsea (H), and Hull (A).
— Dave Phillips (@lovefutebol) June 28, 2016
Most fans would be hoping that we could get them back early to continue their club seasons — can we expect to see either Senegal or Cameroon going far in this tournament?
In terms of Mane, barring another embarrassment, Senegal will not be eliminated in the first round again. So we should expect to see the team reach at least the quarter final stage — at least from around January 5 until the end of the month. In regards to Matip, if he returns to the national team, Cameroon would also be expected to get past the first round. Basically, Liverpool shouldn’t be relying on either throughout the month of January, and perhaps longer if their teams go far in the competition. But, at this moment, I don’t see Matip coming back into the national team, as I mentioned.
Finally, how do you think these two players will perform at Liverpool?
This is only my opinion, but I’m already convinced that Matip will claim his place in defence. He has all the qualities, and could score four or five goals a season. For Mané, I think it’s a gamble. If the club puts him in the right conditions, he will succeed, otherwise he will remain at his current level. But, in any case, he will not be worse than El Hadji Diouf was — which may be of some reassurance.