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Mahrez vs Salah & Mane: To whom will 2019-20 belong?

6:55 am AEST 4/8/19
Sadio Mane Senegal Mohamed Salah Egypt Riyad Mahrez Algeria
After last season’s close battle between Manchester City and Liverpool, expect the African stars to play vital roles for their sides again this term

While neither Manchester City nor Liverpool won the title they truly wanted last term, their respective campaigns each ended on a high note - even though both endured their fair share of heartbreak.

City won an unprecedented domestic treble, while the Reds recorded their sixth European Cup triumph; and a first continental success since their Istanbul miracle in 2005. The Merseyside club’s 2-0 win over Tottenham Hotspur at the Wanda Metropolitano in June also represented Jurgen Klopp’s first trophy since taking charge at Liverpool in October 2015.

Central to the Reds’ European success were the pair of Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane, who contributed a combined nine goals as the Merseysiders ruled the continent. However, it was domestically that the pair truly showed their quality, having scored 22 goals apiece to share the Golden Boot, alongside Arsenal’s Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang.

Even though Salah and Mane were involved in nearly 40 percent of Liverpool’s 89 goals, it wasn’t enough to carry them to a first PL title, continuing their 29-year wait for success. Klopp’s side amassed a staggering 97 points, the third-highest points total in the league’s history, but still fell short to Pep Guardiola’s team, who accrued 98.

For Riyad Mahrez’s part, his inconsistent involvement for the Citizens in 2018/19 nearly blighted his maiden campaign in Manchester.

Having been signed for a then-record fee around £60 million, the Algeria international started just 14 league matches and was mostly restricted to cup appearances, given the attacking talent he was competing with for gametime.

Regardless, the North African, who was valuable in the EFL and FA Cups, was still able to score seven times in the league while registering four assists.

It was a decent return to have given the circumstances, and the expectation ought to be improved game time in the upcoming campaign. 

It remains to be seen how much time he gets on the pitch, but with 33-year-old David Silva unlikely to feature as often in his final season at the club, Bernardo Silva might replace the City legend in attacking midfield, thus giving Mahrez one less competitor for a wide berth.

Even though he didn’t get ample match action last term, the former Leicester City man still played a part in City’s breathtaking domestic treble-winning campaign, which bettered their 2017/18 performance when they won the league and League Cup. 

His strike was enough to see off an overly defensive Bournemouth side 1-0 in March, while his impact to score and assist on the final day 4-1 victory at Brighton & Hove Albion was helpful in the champions' run-in. 

Despite Guardiola’s troops netting fewer goals and accumulating fewer points than two years ago, the fact they claimed a successive title with Klopp’s side cranking up the pressure showed another characteristic of Pep’s team.

They dispelled notions that they might have had it easy the year before by showing their resolute side last term, having to chase and match the Reds’ result on a number of gameweeks. They also became the first side in just over a decade to retain the Premier League, since Sir Alex Ferguson’s Manchester United team recorded a treble of title wins between 2007 and 2009.

That aforementioned feat is certainly the next target for Pep, the unrelenting Spanish manager who’d want the ‘noisy neighbours’ to emulate Sir Alex’s Red Devils.

However, they’d have a motivated Liverpool to contend with yet again, while the chasing pack (with the exception of Chelsea who have a transfer ban) have strengthened and will look to bridge last season’s margin the top two created.

For the trio of African stars, they’d be out to push on from last season and attain even more success in the upcoming campaign, but will likely return to England in different states of mind. Mahrez pushed on from his strong end to the regular season by guiding Algeria to their second Africa Cup of Nations title, defeating Mane’s Senegal 1-0 in the final in Cairo on July 18.

Salah, on the other hand, had a miserable outing with hosts Egypt who suffered the humiliation of an early exit after a 1-0 defeat by South Africa in the Round of 16.

The first two are unlikely to feature in Sunday’s Community Shield owing to their exertions at Afcon, but the Egyptian could play a part in the curtain-raiser at Wembley Stadium. Naby Keita and Joel Matip are both in contention for the Reds.

After last year’s impressive title race, it’s only fitting that the pair restart proceedings this term at the Home of Football.

When the season does get into full swing, Mahrez will hope to play a more prominent role as City fight on all four fronts and seek a maiden title on the continent, while Salah and Mane will be key to Liverpool's Champions League defence, as well as ending their 29-year wait for an elusive league title.

Will the Algerian kick on from his Nations Cup success to play a more prominent role as City retain their championship this term, or can Mane and Salah combine to end Liverpool's wait for the title?