By Paul Machin @ThePaulMachin
We all love a bit of Sadio Mane, he’s boss at footy, loves copying goal celebrations, and has a smile that lights up a stadium.
Imagine my surprise then that there seems to be a growing narrative that Sadio Mane is a waning power in this Liverpool side, with takes ranging from, “past his peak”, to “he’s finished”, washing up like dead fish on the already polluted shores of social media. In a moment of reactionary petulance during this week’s video (embedded below), I asked viewers spouting this stance to name me better players in the Premier League.
One of which was Marcus Rashford (A player I really like by the way, despite his Manc-ness), another was Sterling (who I also really like, despite his serpentine qualities). Out of interested I decided to compare their outputs, and a couple of others in that position, in the league last season:
It’s a simplistic analysis, but I thought it was interesting.
Anyway, I’m not going to sit here and tell you that he was boss, when it was pretty clear to see that last season was a tough one for Sadio. It was a tough one for everyone, (but that’s a different video). This was noticeable via the “eyeball test”, it was mentioned by himself and the manager in interviews, and it’s born out in his season stats.
20/21 was Sadio’s 2nd lowest goal return for the Reds, second only in fact to his first season, a campaign where he captured our hearts and won both Fans’ and Players’ Player of the Season, but also played fewer games due to a late, season ending injury. That season he scored 13 in all comps. Last season he scored 16, for what it’s worth.
Now, let’s not kid ourselves, or make this a one metric discussion. There’s more to football than goals, and there’s more to player analysis than that which can be found in a spreadsheet. The Mané of 2016 to 2018 played with pace, power and a wonderful, reckless abandon.
The one post-Kiev played with all that PLUS the righteous fury of a man who wanted his, and this side’s endeavour’s to be rewarded with silverware. No-one wanted that league title more than Mane. Last year however, when Liverpool were deepest in their struggles, so too it felt was Sadio. Whilst Mo Salah proved himself a stone cold, ruthless killer; on the opposite flank his teammate was toiling.
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Most informative for me on this were Mané’s comments in the “End Of The Storm” documentary, about how he feels that fatigue is largely psychological. As an absolute it’s a nonsense statement of course, but it is an interesting insight, because it speaks to his elite mentality, but also perhaps to a mantra fed to him by Klopp and Co to fend off the obvious physical and emotional pressures he is under playing for both club and country.
The country thing here is especially important.
Since joining 2016, and thanks to his essential roles for both Liverpool and Senegal, Sadio Mane has basically gone without a proper break, or a proper pre-season, until this summer. In his first season for the Reds, Mane played in the then January scheduled African Cup of Nations before his season was curtailed by injury.
He then played the full 17/18 season, culminating in the Champions League Final, a game that, with Salah injured, fell upon him to try and salvage almost single handedly. From there it was straight to the World Cup, and then he just caught the tail end of pre-season before barrelling into 2018/19.
That season saw him once again go as deep as possible, playing in the Champions League Final in June. The freshly crowned European champ celebrated not with a well earned holiday, but instead by joining up with Senegal for the summer scheduled AFCON, losing in the final to Algeria and missing not only pre-season but also the Charity Shield, and only being fit enough for the subs bench for the season opener against Norwich. The 2019/20 season ended in league listing, 30 year wait ending glory, but also ended in July, making it effectively 12 months without a break.
I’m exhausted just typing that, let alone living it, but it doesn’t stop there…
… THEN, with just a handful a weeks to prep the season began again, started well and then, after losing Van Dijk, Gomez, Matip, Thaigo, Fabinho, Hendo, and Jota (the man purportedly bought to help Mane through rotation), things finally went to shit. In that god forsaken 14 game run from the draw with Allardyce’s West Brom on the 27th December, to the 0-1 defeat to Fulham on the 7th of March, a run that consisted of 3 Draws, 8 Losses, and 3 wins, Sadio Played 12, scored 2, and got 2 assists.
However, when Liverpool turned the corner in that now weirdly historic (ta Alisson!) 10 game run in from Wolves on the 15th of March to the blessed relief of Palace at home on the final day, (2 Draws, 0 Losses, 8 wins), Sadio played 10, scored 4, and got 4 assists. A marked improvement to say the least, and one definitely more akin the Sadio Mane we all know and love.
So what’s my point? What am I driving at here? Well, simply put, if you’re writing off Sadio Mane you’ve probably got too much time on your hands and too many unused characters on your twitter.
Is he the “best player in the world?” Probably not, but is he as good as anyone in football on the left wing? Absolutely.
Is he on the decline? Hey, it’s possible, he is 29 after all, and not 19. I guess time will tell, but for me world class players don’t suddenly stop being world class, and if the world has frothed itself up into a pubescent fury over the potential transformative effects of Messi (34), Ramos (35), and Ronaldo (36), then it’s fair to say there’s plenty more mileage in Mane just yet.
Most importantly now though he looks rested, he’s got a crowd to perform for, and some of last season’s wrongs to right. Hell hath no fury like a Sadio Mane with gas in the tank and a point to prove.
There’s certainly more points to pick at on this, many more of which I covered on this week’s video, please give it a look, and get involved in the debate in the comments too…
Sadio Mane’s Appearances (All Competitions) and Minutes Played Since Joining LFC:
2020/21: Apps: 48, Mins: 3,746
2019/20: Apps: 45, Mins: 3,570
2018/19: Apps: 50, Mins: 4,295
2017/18: Apps: 42, Mins 3,284
2016/17: Apps: 29, Mins 2,450*
*Liverpool had no European Football in 16/17