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Why Mane, not Salah, could be Liverpool’s key man vs. Bayern

6:23 AM SGT 19/12/18
Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mane
The Egyptian was anonymous in Sunday's win, and the Reds might have to depend on his African teammate against the Bavarian giants

COMMENT    By Seye Omidiora     Follow on Twitter
 

In truth, Liverpool’s 3-1 success against Manchester United at Anfield on Sunday was expected, with the Reds heading into the clash in much better shape than their foe.

What wasn’t anticipated was the pummeling the Manchester giants received at the home of the side former manager Sir Alex Ferguson ‘knocked off their perch’ and their age-old enemies, a side they despise.

An interesting subplot in the comprehensive win was the contrasting displays of Sadio Mane and Mohamed Salah. The former scored his first goal against the Red Devils, ending a run of eight successive games without one, while the latter toiled in congested areas in his advanced role.

Given the lack of room for the Egypt international to strut his stuff, it was surprising to see him stay in central areas receiving the ball with his back to goal, as opposed to drifting out wide to find a bit of space. He was dispossessed seven times over the course of the game, more than Mane and Roberto Firmino combined and lost a large percentage of his individual battles.

His Senegalese teammate, by contrast, played a part in two of the Reds’ three goals.

He expertly took down Fabinho’s exquisite pass with his chest before finishing with aplomb for the home side’s opening goal. He then left Ander Herrera for dead in the buildup to Xherdan Shaqiri making it 2-1 as the game entered the final quarter.

Ironically, the aforementioned dribble was the only time Mane beat his marker throughout the game, but it turned out to be vital in the challengers returning to the top of the table.

Sunday’s game only served to further amplify this season’s dynamic for the two players in the so-called big games. While Salah has been largely ineffective against strong opposition, Mane has fared slightly better than his teammate. 

In the five games the Reds have so far played against the top sides in the league, the Egyptian has failed to dominate any. The games include: Tottenham Hotspur and Chelsea away, Manchester City at Anfield, Arsenal at the Emirates and the weekend’s clash with United at Anfield. 

In fact, the rapid Salah was withdrawn in two of the aforementioned games, while Mane played for the entirety of the fixtures.

Throw in the derby against Everton a couple of weeks ago and the number increases to three. Taking off your star player in huge encounters is a rarity in itself, so Klopp’s decision to hook the former Roma attacker off in a trio of games is telling. 

For Mane, while he hasn’t been stellar in all the aforementioned matchups, he’s at least had a mighty effect in two of those games - against Spurs at Wembley and on Sunday against Jose Mourinho’s side. 

Statistically, the former Southampton player didn’t score or assist against the North London club, but his all-round contribution over the course of the match showed he was a thorn in the side of Mauricio Pochettino’s charges. 

Neither have made the biggest impact in the Champions League so far.

Admittedly, Salah did score the goal that secured the Reds’ 1-0 win against Napoli on matchday six, but he, as well as Mane, has been ineffectual on the continent so far. 

Maybe that’s the reason for fans of the Merseyside club being a tad nervous after Monday’s draw had them paired with German heavyweights Bayern Munich in the Round of 16.

Last year, when the Liverpool forwards were playing outstandingly week in, week out, the belief that they could go toe-to-toe with the best sides was unshakable.

Their away day blues haven’t helped either, with four successive defeats on the road since last season.

The situation at both clubs could well change in the upcoming months, but with the Bavarian giants’ hitherto unpredictable campaign, Liverpool shouldn’t have anything to fear against Nico Kovac’s side. 

Perhaps that confidence would be greater if Mane and Salah were consistently proving their worth in the tough games this season, and Liverpool hadn’t been getting outclassed on their recent away trips on the continent. 

Nevertheless, the African pair have two months to find their feet, and in turn feed the belief that the Reds have absolutely nothing to fear against the five-time European champions.