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14.03.2019 08:52

Forget Salah, Mane will be Liverpool’s main-man during title run-in

Senegalese superstar Sadio Mane’s form between now and the end of the season will be integral to Liverpool’s chances of finishing with silverware. Mane has been in devastating form for the Reds this campaign and has a major role to play in the Merseysiders’ title run-in.

Now in his third season with Liverpool, Mane has developed into one of the most terrifying wingers in the league. After two highly successful seasons with Southampton helped establish him as one of the most feared attackers in the league, Liverpool came knocking and signed him for £34 million on a five-year contract.

His effect on the team was immediate and evident for all to see as he finished with 13 goals and eight assists from 29 games in what was an injury-hit first campaign in Merseyside for the swift winger. However, despite a slight dip from his previous season with Southampton, where he managed 15 goals and nine assists in 43 games, Jurgen Klopp knew there was more to come from the fleet-footed wideman.

Klopp was proved right the following campaign as Mane finished with the best returns of his career so far despite missing many games due to injury. Even though he was often overshadowed by his teammate Mohamed Salah, who won the PFA Player of the Year as well as the African Player of the Year awards, his importance to the Liverpool was not lost on the fans or Klopp’s backroom staff.

This season has seen Mane go up a level and outshine Salah to the extent that many fans and pundits alike believe that the Senegalese is Liverpool’s most potent threat going forward. The 26-year-old has registered 19 goals and three assists in 37 matches across all competitions so far. Of those 19 strikes, 16 have come in the league, putting him one league goal behind Salah.

Sadio Mane looks on course to end the season with his best-ever goals return

Furthermore, it’s the timing and significance of Mane’s goals that really makes the difference. He seems to be hitting form when the pressure is intensifying and has been Liverpool’s best performer since the start of the year. In fact, half of his league goals have come in 2019 when Liverpool showed signs of slipping up in the title race.

Capable of rising to any challenge, his brace in the UEFA Champions League quarter-final against Bayern Munich on Wednesday night was another instance where he showed how he thrives under the pressure of being his side’s main man. While his first strike against Bayern was a magnificent exhibition of control, composure and poise; Mane’s second demonstrated his intelligence as he created space for a lethal header with smart movement that bamboozled the German center-backs.

Undoubtedly Liverpool’s man of the moment, it can be argued only center-back Virgil van Dijk is of more significance to the Reds than Mane at present. Going forward though there’s no doubt that opposition backlines will be living in fear when up against Mane’s pace and trickery. With the final international break of the season just days away, it’s an opportune time for everyone to regroup before the title run-in.

It’s also imperative for Liverpool that Mane doesn’t pick an injury during this break on national duty, just as he did earlier this season while away. Lest we forget, it’s him, not Salah who Liverpool will be relying on to unlock defences when the pressure is really on with the league title within their grasps. Even though Liverpool aren’t a one-man side, how Mane’s fares over the next two months, will decide if Liverpool can bring an end to their almost three-decade long league drought.

Words: Andre Pitts

Images: PA