Last season, only Mohamed Salah scored more than Sadio Mane for Liverpool. 18 goals in 35 Premier League appearances represented another significant haul for the Senegalese forward after he’d struck 22 in 36 games the season before. These were the numbers of a true superstar.
Mane, however, hasn’t been anywhere near as productive this season, netting just seven times in 28 league appearances. It’s got to the point where the 29-year-old is no longer assured of his place in Jurgen Klopp’s starting lineup, having been dropped to the bench for last Saturday’s home fixture against Aston Villa.
Even when Mane was introduced in the second half, he managed to spurn a number of good scoring opportunities. It isn’t just his finishing that appears to have dropped off either. His energy used to be key to Liverpool’s high press out of possession, but he no longer appears to be willing or able to apply the same sort of pressure on the opposition.
“It’s a situation you have a look at who is performing how and stuff like this, how does it work together?” Klopp attempted to reason. “Where can Bobby [Firmino] play and Mo [Salah] obviously and Diogo, what can they do? How can we set-up our midfield what is the right level of aggression? But also football-wise we are playing in the right spaces, all these kind of things that is what you consider when you think about the line-up. I didn’t have to do it but today I did it.”
Klopp didn’t have to drop Sadio Mane but by doing so he recognised and addressed the dismal form of one of his most important players. With Diogo Jota only getting better, and more ruthless in front of goal, the Liverpool manager had a duty to make changes. To ignore the contrasting form of Jota and Mane would be borderline negligent.
But while Jota can play off the left wing in the meantime, Klopp has a difficult decision to make on Sadio Mane as a Liverpool player in the medium to long term. The 29-year-old has just over two years left on his contract and so this summer could be the Reds’ last opportunity to demand a big fee for the player before they start to lose leverage in any transfer market negotiations.
In some ways, the situation Liverpool face with Mane is reflective of the one they will have to confront with regards to their whole squad. The Senegalese forward has been a key figure for the Anfield club in their most successful period for over three decades, but evolution will be required to keep the Reds at the top of the English and European game. There will have to be some squad turnover to achieve this, so is Sadio Mane one of those who should be moved on?
One important factor to note is the amount of football Mane has played over the past two years or so. The 2019 Africa Cup of Nations final meant he had just 10 days of pre-season before starting the 2019/20 season, when he played nearly every single game for Liverpool. Then came the 2020/21 season, which has seen most clubs play two fixtures every week, and it’s easy to see why the 29-year-old might not be as spritely as he once was.
Again, Sadio Mane is probably reflective of a larger situation Liverpool are facing with a squad in need of rest and reenergising. Nonetheless, Klopp can’t ignore recent decline of one of his best players. If Mane isn’t delivering for Liverpool, they must assess his place at the club regardless of what he has achieved for them in the past.
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