When the news broke that Liverpool had signed Sadio Mane for £34m from Southampton in the summer, it was greeted with mixed reactions. Was the price tag too much? Was he going to fit in at Klopp’s Liverpool? Was this the solution to the Red’s goal-scoring lack of depth? Perhaps he was just another ex-Saints player to add to the collection… Either way, few would’ve predicted just how well Mane would do in his opening weeks on Merseyside and it’s been a pleasant surprise.
The forward picked up the club’s Player of the Month award and his debut goal against Arsenal on the opening weekend of the Premier League season was voted the Goal of the Month, topping off a fairly impressive start to life on Merseyside. Mane’s goal-scoring record was already one to be boasted about during his time with the Saints. He notched up 11 goals in the 2015-16 season and helped his side finish 6th in the league table – the highest position the club has ever achieved in the Premier League. A number of those goals came against opposition which finished in the top ten, including three against Liverpool. He also scored against Chelsea and an impressive hat-trick against Manchester City to seal a 4-2 victory in May.
The Senegalese moved to the Premier League ahead of the 2014-15 season after impressing for Red Bull Salzburg and he made a quick start to life in England, hitting double figures in his first season. He hit almost 60 shots on target in the league in just 67 games, for a club that wasn’t in the top four and he was by far the greatest threat in the Southampton side. Statistically, he was impressive but he wasn’t the kind of striker many would expect to pay over £30m for.
His transfer has turned out to be an inspired one though. Since joining the Reds, he’s already scored two goals in four league appearances and has become part of a formidable attacking line-up alongside Daniel Sturridge, Adam Lallana, Roberto Firmino and Philippe Coutinho. His inclusion has become such a good addition that Sturridge and Coutinho have had to fight for a starting position – something that hasn’t been heard of in Liverpool for some time. Alongside Firmino, Mane has clearly been the Reds’ outstanding performer and people are already comparing him to the recent Luis Suarez.
His performances against Leicester City and Arsenal were inspiring and he was clearly the outstanding man against Tottenham. So far, he’s caused some of the league’s best defenders some serious problems and Liverpool, with him in their attack, have looked like the side similar to the 2013-14 team that almost clinched the Premier League title under Brendan Rodgers.
Throughout the summer, it seemed like Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Paul Pogba, Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Leroy Sane would be the ones to light up the Premier League but in fact, Klopp has opted for proven quality and transformed him into a deadly weapon in attack. With goal-scoring ability, pace and confidence already in abundance, Klopp simply had to get Mane to adapt to his playing style and encourage off-the-ball pressing and he’s achieved both with devastating effect.
Despite the two clubs holding similar positions in the league table in recent years, Mane understood what a move to Liverpool could potentially mean for his future as a player. The forward recognised the genius of Klopp, the ambition of FSG and Liverpool’s owners and the expectations of the fan base which has witnessed remarkable achievements in the past. He craved to be part of the Anfield legend and as a result, plays each game like it could be his last. This has given him the edge so far. He understands he has to fight for a position in the starting XI at Liverpool. There’s some serious attacking talent at Klopp’s expense but so far, Mane’s name has been spoken about ahead of those.
Pep Guardiola and Jose Mourinho’s superstars may be doing the business, but Klopp’s got the best deal in Sadio Mane – the surprise package.