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It's time to talk about Mane: Do Liverpool need to drop misfiring forward?

08:00 BST 09/04/2021
Sadio Mane Liverpool Real Madrid Champions League 2020-21
The Senegalese has so often proven the Reds' man for the big occasion but he was almost anonymous in Tuesday's loss at Real Madrid

Is it time to talk about Sadio Mane?

The Liverpool star cut a frustrated figure during Tuesday night’s defeat to Real Madrid, and no wonder.

To say it was not his night would be an understatement.

This has been Mane’s domain in recent years. The latter stages of the Champions League has tended to bring out the best in him. In 19 knockout appearances for Liverpool, he has scored 12 times. Only Cristiano Ronaldo has scored more across the same period.

Big games call for big players, and Mane has certainly been that; the go-to man on more than one occasion, for Jurgen Klopp. 

His form of late, though, is becoming something of a concern. With just three goals in his last 15 games, and just seven in 27 Premier League games this season, the Reds’ main man has begun to misfire.

Klopp has many puzzles to solve at Anfield right now, and revitalising his Senegalese star should be high on the list...

Frustration in Madrid 

Mane struggled badly against Real. He finished the game without registering a single shot, on or off target, having failed to complete a single key pass and having lost all six of his aerial duels. Only Naby Keita, of the outfield starters for Liverpool, had fewer touches throughout.

And Keita, of course, was substituted after just 42 minutes.

Mane’s frustration was clear. He looked tired, cumbersome, angry. His touch was heavy and his threat non-existent. Right-back Lucas Vazquez, a winger by trade and identified as a possible weak link pre-match, coped easily.

Afterwards Klopp chose to direct his anger towards referee Felix Brych, whom he accused of having a “personal” issue with Mane, having failed to award a number of free-kicks in the Liverpool man’s favour, including one in the first half which may have seen Vazquez shown a red card. 

“What the referee did tonight, I didn’t understand,” the Reds boss told his post-match press conference. He had confronted Brych at the final whistle to make his feelings clear to the German official.

“I told him I thought he was unfair with Sadio, that’s how it is,” Klopp added. “Whenever Sadio went down, he couldn’t get anything. That’s just not right.”

Attacking issues

Liverpool’s forwards have found themselves under the spotlight this season. After three years of brilliance, mind-blowing numbers and show-stopping performances, Klopp’s star men have returned to a more ‘normal’ level this term. 

Much of the debate has centred around the role of Roberto Firmino. The Brazilian’s impact has been fitful, and his lack of goals brought into sharp focus as the Reds have dropped down the Premier League table.

The common consensus is that his place is under serious threat, especially with Diogo Jota making such an eye-catching start to life on Merseyside.

The talk surrounding Mo Salah, meanwhile, has been about his future, his happiness at Anfield. The Egyptian has scored consistently – his strike against Real was his 27th of the campaign in all competitions – but that hasn’t stopped the rumours. 

Mane, though, has largely flown under the radar. He continues to play, but his output has dipped significantly.

“I’m sorry but it’s time for Sadio to come out of the team,” tweeted Stephen Warnock, the former Liverpool defender, after the defeat to Real Madrid. “Never thought I’d be saying that but he’s miles off it.”

Klopp is likely to be a little more circumspect, but there is no doubt he needs an improvement if his side are to salvage their season in the coming weeks.

What do the numbers say?

There is no doubt that Mane’s raw output has dropped. With just seven league goals, and only 12 in all competitions, this is his least-prolific scoring season since joining Liverpool in 2016. He has broken the 20-goal mark in each of his last three campaigns, but will do well to keep that particular run going this time around.

And yet closer inspection suggests that not much has changed, that he is continuing to do the things he has always done, just with less success.

He is, in fact, attempting more shots per 90 minutes this season than he did last (3.03 vs 2.52). He is also having more touches in the opposition box per 90 (8.16 vs 7.09), and completing more dribbles (2.87 per 90 vs 2.26). No forward has dribbled more than Mane in the Premier League this season. 

He has certainly influenced games. Only five forwards – Harry Kane, Jamie Vardy, James Rodriguez, Che Adams and the relentless Salah – have created more ‘big chances’ this season than Mane. His four Premier League assists place him above the likes of Marcus Rashford, Riyad Mahrez, Raheem Sterling and Son Heung-min. 

The real issue has been his conversion rate. Mane, at present, is averaging a goal every 353 minutes in the Premier League, compared to one every 153 last season. His shot accuracy remains at around the 50 per cent mark, but his conversion rate has dipped drastically, from 23.4% last season to just 9.21% this time around.        

Only four players – Patrick Bamford, Dominic Calvert-Lewin, Chris Wood and Timo Werner – have missed more ‘big chances’ than the former Southampton man, although it should be pointed out that Salah, Vardy and even Kane, the league’s top scorer, rank high on that particular list.


Fatigue has to be a factor. Mane will play his 40th club game of the season against Villa on Saturday. He has featured in 171 of Liverpool’s last 188 games in the Premier League and Champions League.

“A warrior,” is how Pep Lijnders, the assistant manager, has described him. His durability, like Salah’s, has been crucial to the Reds’ development under Klopp. When they have needed him, he has been there.

They need him now, of course, but it has looked as though the workload of the last three seasons has caught up with him in recent months.

Few players combine speed, technique and strength like Mane, but there has been something lacking of late. He’s been a step slower, a touch weaker, and certainly lot less decisive in the final third.

Maybe, as Warnock suggested, a spell out of the team would do him good, allowing him to refresh and reset and return with renewed enthusiasm. 

Or maybe we should trust him to play his way through the slump. Form is temporary, after all, and class is permanent.

And few players have the class of Sadio Mane.