Liverpool delivered their best performance for a number of weeks on Saturday as they ran out convincing 4-1 winners against West Ham United. Before the match, the return of Sadio Mane was widely discussed and his contribution during the match underlined his value to the team. Reds’ supporters will attest to his important as they are usually much better with him than without him, but the performance at the London Stadium brought it to the attention of the wider football-watching public. The Hammers may not be in a strong state, but that should take nothing away from the display from Jurgen Klopp’s men.
Since he joined the club, Mane has been a standout player for Liverpool and the results have been better when he has been in the team. The Reds have a Premier League win percentage of 62.5% when the Senegalese international is in the team, whereas when he is absent, their win percentage stands at 41.2%. There is a noticeable difference and regular watchers of Klopp’s team won’t be surprised of that, as the 25-year-old plays a central role in the system being used at Anfield.
The tag of ‘heavy metal football’ has been applied to Klopp throughout his managerial career and it rings true to an extent as his teams do play with high intensity and look to press high to win possession back at every opportunity. Mane is perfect for such a system as he has a good work rate out of possession, but it is his pace and dynamism with the ball that makes him such an important player at Anfield. When the Reds win the ball in the opposition half, they look to counter with pace and there are few better dribblers in the Premier League than their 25-year-old attacker. That was evidenced on Saturday as he ran clear of the West Ham defence before laying the ball on a plate for Mohamed Salah. That goal was all about the ball-carrying ability of the former Southampton player.
During the match, Mane contributed two assists, in addition to two successful dribbles and two key passes. His movement was superb, as he regularly created space for the other three attacking players in the Liverpool starting eleven. Klopp’s system is a fluid one which puts tactical responsibility on the players selected. They need to understand their role and adapt their position based on the match situation. Mane is superb at doing that and is regularly seen across the attacking line taking up good positions.
In terms of his defensive work, Mane isn’t shy of working back and contributing to the team off the ball. He is an aggressive presser of the ball and can always be seen putting pressure on the opposition defenders. Klopp demands that each of his players does their bit out of possession and it is evident that the 25-year-old has taken the instructions of his manager on board. Liverpool didn’t look the same pressing team as they did in previous seasons during the past few weeks, but they were back to their best on Saturday and a huge reason for that was the return of the Senegalese attacker.
It would be too simplistic to conclude that Liverpool are reliant on Mane, but it is difficult to ignore his worth to the team. He is an extremely important player for their system and in the long run, a front three of Salah, Mane and Roberto Firmino looks to be the best option for the Reds.