It has been interesting to observe how the back-and-forth between Merseyside and Manchester ahead of Sunday's top-of-the-table clash has centered on Sadio Mane.
The Senegal international, who has so often this season been the protagonist of late Liverpool flourishes in games, has finally gotten the treatment that is reserved for only the most feared and potent players in the league.
Sir Alex Ferguson ensured that the 'mind game' entered the football lexicon forever, but his beloved Manchester United no longer feature where it matters in the Premier League. The definitive rivalry is now between Liverpool and Manchester City, but the device he wielded with legendary aplomb has been dusted off and trained on Mane.
In a way, it can be viewed as flattering.
Not in the sense that Mane is undeserving, of course. Clearly, this term he has been the Reds' most consistent attacker, the one who has consistently gotten them over humps as Jurgen Klopp has slightly scaled back the attacking bent of the team for greater defensive solidity.
Roberto Firmino is about the flow, and Mohamed Salah is about the zoom, but Mane just brings that extra grit to ride out the rough spots.
The accusation was as much an acknowledgement of that as anything, beyond the element of trying to get into the heads of the officials.
If anything, it was almost a tacit admission of fear from a manager who already has something of a complex about Liverpool, and who so keenly obsesses over the best way to get the better of them.
It was nothing the 27-year-old was willing to put too much stock in, saying, "I will just play my football like I'm always doing. I don't pay attention to what he's saying because it's part of football.
Then, tongue-in-cheek, "If it could be a penalty for sure I will 'dive' again. If the dive will give me a penalty then I will do it to get it back."
While the idea of wanting to do what is necessary to win is admirable, even imperative for a sportsman, there is the risk of the reputation that comes with it.
Mane has already felt the brunt of that, booked for simulation in their late comeback win over Aston Villa (which he completed anyway), but there was a sign there of a perception beginning to stick.
It is somewhat reminiscent of what another African great had to weather in the Premier League.
Didier Drogba, during his glittering career at Chelsea, came to be considered something of a diver, keen to go to ground at the slightest contact: a particularly cringeworthy episode came in a game against Arsenal at Stanford Bridge in 2006.
Feature: @Mahrez22 gets the last laugh over Africa's 'Premier League elite' @MoSalah & Sadio Mane at the Afcon, writes @TheOddSolace— Ed Dove (@EddyDove) July 21, 2019
Is he the early favourite for the 2019 African Footballer of the Year award?https://t.co/S0Qt3h9czY#TotalAFCON2019 pic.twitter.com/rsjk0WOvJG
For a big man (both literally and figuratively) it certainly was not the sort of conduct expected of him, and while those antics have not tarnished his legacy too greatly, it is a black mark still.
But should it be, really?
It is precisely the fiercely competitive nature of these athletes that drives them to seek to maximize every possible advantage. There is, of course, a huge difference between cutting out ice cream and seeking to deceive the official, but diving occupies a quite odd position in public debates: regularly vilified a lot more than egregious acts of violence and cynicism, despite being punishable to the same degree – a booking.
Mane insisted he felt contact from Bjorn Engels, and that it was sufficient to impede him. Whether that is right or wrong, it is not peculiar to him.
It seems almost a nit-pick to hone in on that as a 'weakness' for a player who has regularly begun to figure in the conversation for individual awards both on the league and global stage.
It could well affect his chances in those stakes, but it really shouldn't. If, as one school of thought dictates, the best player in the best team ought to have the strongest case, then Mane's chances are as good as anybody else's.
Not even allegations of diving can change that.