SINCE Mohamed Salah’s arrival on Merseyside, he has continually warped perceptions of what a normal season looks like in terms of attacking output.
Supplying 44 goals and 16 assists in his first season, equalling Roger Hunt’s record of 23 goals before the turn of the year and becoming the club’s fastest player to score 20 Premier League goals, the Egyptian single handedly raised the bar, subsequently lifting the expectations levelled at his teammates.
In the years since, he remained the trend setter; the pacemaker setting the standard within Klopp’s attacking blueprint.
Yet, amid all his brilliance, Sadio Mane has kept apace, honing his skills to quietly emerge from Salah’s sizeable shadow and become arguably Liverpool’s most important player.
Jürgen Klopp has long been an admirer of the forward, previously chasing his services in Germany, where he earmarked Mane as a player ideally suited to his high-octane, gegenpressing style.
Finally retrieving his man at the start of 2016-17 for a modest fee of £37m, in today’s market, he has gone from strength to strength, becoming the perfect fit his manager always knew he would be.
From 13 goals in 28 games inside his first season to doubling his tally 12 months later to securing a share of the Golden Boot spoils with 22 goals in 2018-19, the 27-year-old’s upturn in output has been paramount to his growth in stature within the squad.
As far as long-term trends go, Mane’s expected goals (xG) makes for convincing reading, increasing every year since he joined The Reds, with last season perhaps most reflective of his progression, scoring five more goals relative to the chances he received – an xG total of 16.76.
What’s more, he was the only player whose goals came exclusively from open play, ranging from an outrageous turn and finish against Manuel Neuer at the Allianz Arena to an audacious back-heel lob versus Watford.
Netting a flurry of sensational goals that showcased his individual brilliance, Mane now operates with the self confidence every world-class player needs; the audacity to not only attempt but execute the unthinkable and seemingly impossible.
He is performing with panache and potency, serving as an integral component of Klopp’s scintillating attacking unit and staking his claim as the club’s best player so far this season.
Acting as the catalyst for crucial victories, the former Saints man has spearheaded the mentality monsters with key contributions at key times, currently leading the scoring charts with eight goals in 11 appearances in all competitions as The Reds continue to find new ways to get the job done.
When Liverpool need something, their man for all seasons delivers. Only Sergio Aguero has scored more Premier League goals in 2019.
Instigating a rampant first half against Salzburg, Mane became only the third Liverpool player to score 15+ Champions League goals for the club, doing so in 26 appearances to join Salah and Gerrard in the history books.
So far this season, he has already amassed an xG of 3.6, averaging 2.79 shots per 90 minutes. He is now getting himself into more dangerous positions on a more frequent basis, averaging 0.75 goals or assists per game while retaining the composure and execution to tuck away his chances.
His five league goals from 19 shots mean he has scored 26 per cent of his shots this term. For comparison, Salah has converted 15 per cent of his shots, scoring four from 26 shots while Firmino has converted 12 per cent, netting three times from 24 attempts.
Starting in his old position on the right flank against Leicester at the weekend, Mane’s performance was as much about him adding another brilliant goal to his expanding repertoire as it was about his selfless defensive contribution.
Tasked with limiting the influence of Ricardo Pereira and Ben Chilwell, Leicester’s adventurous full backs who are as imperative to Rodgers’ system as Trent Alexander-Arnold and Andy Robertson are to Liverpool, Klopp’s tactical tweak paid homage to the 27-year-old’s growing responsibility.
It was an afternoon that saw him make more tackles than any Liverpool player, including an immaculate sliding challenge on Chilwell, contest more duels and run further than any of his teammates bar Milner and Fabinho.
All that while having as many shots on target as anyone, it’s hard to think of another wide forward in world football who boasts such an unrelenting work rate.
Crucially, when the opportunity arose for Mane to make his mark at the other end, he duly delivered. He has become the scorer of many goals as well as the scorer of big goals, just as Saturday’s proved to be.
Finishing his chance with aplomb, Mane now boasts 50 goals for the club in 100 appearances, with his last 25 goals coming in 14 fewer appearances than his previous 25. He is only the 10th player in the club’s history to reach the milestone.
The Senegal international has emerged as one of the club’s most trusted lieutenants, ensuring his brilliance hasn’t been lost in the warped expectations emanating from Salah’s brilliance, but rather morphing into Klopp’s go-to man. The man for all seasons in red hot form.
He has set his own bar as the new pacemaker; the guiding light in an enthralling sea of brilliance.
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