Oh Mané Mané

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Article by David Rice – @davidjrice83

On a day that started with a fair dose of doubt and bewilderment over a midfield trio that the majority of us didn’t fancy, the only things we were left to talk about when the final whistle blew in Munich was the quality within the ranks of this Reds side and what a glorious night it had been.

Chief among the talking points was Sadio Mané, a player whose brilliance we sometimes fail to appreciate when he’s not scoring goals. A player many labelled very good, but not world class in recent times. Go back a year, Mo Salah was setting the world on fire and Mané was considered at times to be “struggling,” as much as a man who scored 20 goals and assisted his teammates nine times can be considered struggling.

He was dangerous, but clearly overshadowed. The media narratives told us so. Forget his City goal, forget his Burnley goal, the fact he scores in the Champions League Final. They’ve wanted us to believe at different times that he and Mo don’t get along, that there were issues around his contract, that he’d be wooed by one of world football’s giants.

I felt like at the end of last season, all the pundits saw were his flaws, a few less league goals than in 16/17 further highlighted by how amazing Salah and Roberto Firmino had been.



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This season, the attention has been on Salah again as the world has wondered if he’d be a one season wonder or stride confidently into legend status. Coming into late February, early March, focus had shifted to our new-found defensive stoutness through Virgil van Dijk, the ever-evolving role of Firmino and the impact or lack thereof from new signings.

Mané and his impact weren’t underrated per se, but it was under appreciated in 17/18. You almost can’t blame his doubters. He’s unpredictable, graceful and clumsy in the same moment. His athleticism is incredible, but he has fallen short at pairing it with an elite level ruthlessness at times in the past.

With each passing performance, however, he is forcing his critics to rethink that assessment, though he doesn’t care what anyone thinks and it shows. With a calm, cool and collected demeanour, he’s approached this season with a “hold my beer” attitude to breaking opposing defences down and embarrassing opposition goalkeepers.

His brace in the opener against West Ham was enough for me to go on record saying I believed he’d score 30 goals this season. Two from his next seven had my friends scoffing at the suggestion, but I defiantly kept insisting that it would happen. I was a living version of that meme with the guy at the table behind a sign that makes a statement, followed by “Change my mind.” So much so, I painted this banner to hang at my local on a match day, my belief in the Senegalese forward unbreakable.

 

Until it wasn’t, of course. For a time, it didn’t seem to me like any of the front three would hit full gear this season. That is, of course, the kind of hyperbole we’re all guilty of at times, such is the nature of being a supporter emotionally invested in the Reds’ success. His strike against Manchester United aside, it seemed Mané was struggling with increased attention from defenders as much as the rest of our attacking trio. It didn’t stop us from getting the results, but collectively we all felt like they’d been stuck in second gear.

And then he scores the final goal in that Palace thriller in January to spark this current run of form. He carries on as the teeth of our attack for the next three matches. Then, his back heel.

That goal against Watford was an expression of joy, of pure love for what it is to be a young man playing football in his prime. Every kid kicking around on a playground dreams of just that moment. You could tell what it meant to him instantly and what it meant to us that he had the brains and balls to pull it off.

After finishing off that match with a brace, he did Burnley in with another pair just 11 days later, reminding us once again that form is temporary, class is indeed permanent. He’s now one goal shy of matching his scoring output from last season and one goal behind Mo on the season across all competitions.

We’ve never doubted his or any of the front three’s class, but a good many of us would be lying if we said that at no point this season were we anxious over when that class would come oozing through and result in a greater number of balls in the back of opposition nets.

It’s not that Mané’s done it alone. It’s that he’s done it concert with Firmino and Salah’s efforts once again, which for all their merit, have still been slightly out of tune with our expectations of what they should be. That’s the magic of what Klopp has built though, a lesson in fluidity and subtle variation you can’t appreciate unless you’ve seen enough of its antithesis. These three can kill you in so many different ways, it’s impossible to know where the death blow will come from.

By the time the ball kicked off on Wednesday, Mané was by no means flying under anyone’s radar. He is a genuinely feared, consistently praised performer in Liverpool’s orchestra of attacking of football. But despite the recognition, he was, and perhaps still is, widely considered to be sitting second chair to Salah.

With that deft first touch and a turn that removed Manuel Neuer from his kecks, Mané has again announced to the world that in this triumvirate, each instrument can play as eloquently as the next. As he peeled toward the far post and nodded home Salah’s inch perfect cross, he reminded us all that these lads don’t just like each other, they’re having the time of their lives out there, together.

For Mané, this season is fast becoming a crucial moment. There’s no denying him now, the only possible knock on him or his attacking partners come May will be whether they were enough to provide Liverpool with some long-awaited silverware. Of course, things are never really that simple and each of these players’ greatness shouldn’t be measured by trophies alone. Unfortunately, we know our tendency to simplify things means that it will be.

Most of us knew he was special, but some of us had yet to realise just how special he could be. Today, we watch him free of doubt. He’s Sadio Mané, he’s world class and he’s one half of what would be football’s most dynamic duo, if it wasn’t for the fact that he and Salah are just two-thirds of football’s most dangerous trio.

Enjoy what you’re watching, Reds. These lads are class and while they’ve been slow to hit the heights we all expected at the season’s start, I’m saying it still. Sadio Mané is scoring 30 goals this season. Change my mind.

Article by David Rice – @davidjrice83

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