What a difference a year makes. Rewind 12 months and Liverpool forward Sadio Mane was down in the dumps, openly admitting he was enduring his ‘worst season’ ever.
The Senegal international even resorted to taking physical tests to try to find a reason for an alarming slump in form.
Mane’s drop-off from his ridiculously high standards did reflect Liverpool’s collective slip from their near-perfect performances from previous seasons.
Sadio Mane scored the winner at Aston Villa to keep Liverpool’s quadruple challenge alive
A high number of injuries severely hampered the Reds’ title defence last campaign but they did manage to resurrect their season to qualify for the Champions League. And now they could well end up lifting European football’s most-coveted prize at the end of the month.
Mane has not only been pivotal to Liverpool’s path to Paris but has been the spearhead of their quadruple tilt. He proved decisive on Tuesday night.
With Liverpool’s Premier League title hopes in danger of being shattered at Villa Park Mane produced an exceptional header to seal three points which ensured they kept pace with leaders Manchester City.
As the header curled away into the far corner, memories of the equally difficult header he dispatched against Villa in injury time when Liverpool won their first top-flight title in 30 years came to the fore.
The timing of Mane’s crucial goal wasn’t as dramatic on this occasion but it was just as important. Lose and the Reds probably waved goodbye to the league trophy.
Liverpool have been nothing short of sensational this season. After winning the Carabao Cup in February, they’ve navigated routes through to the FA Cup and Champions League finals as well as putting a remarkable run together to come back from 14 points behind Pep Guardiola’s side in the race for the title.
Mane has been decisive in Jurgen Klopp’s side’s quest for an historic quadruple this season
It’s no secret just how vital £50million January arrival Luis Diaz has been to that renaissance in England’s top division but Mane has stepped up a notch since February.
Specifically he has kicked on following his momentous Africa Cup of Nations victory with Senegal on February 6.
Mane fired his country to sporting history three months ago by scoring the winning penalty in the shootout in the final of the competition – after he had missed from the spot in normal time.
Prior to international success, he had bagged 10 goals in 26 matches with a 14.3 per cent shot conversion rate. Such a return equated to a goal every 205 minutes.
Mane was instrumental in sealing Senegal’s first triumph in Africa Cup of Nations in February
With the AFCON prize under his belt he’s banging in a goal every 132 minutes following 12 goals in 22 appearances with a shot conversion rate of 25 per cent.
Mane has also had to adapt his game to play in a more central position in Liverpool’s front three to accommodate winger Diaz, but he’s also shouldered responsibility when Mohamed Salah’s touch in front of goal has deserted him.
The Colombian’s introduction has given Jurgen Klopp the luxury to be able to rotate amid a jam-packed fixture schedule and handed stars like Mane the chance to show his versatility.
The Liverpool boss branded Mane a ‘machine’ following his decisive goal at Villa Park.
‘He is a machine, I told him after the game. Massive player! The mix of technique, desire and physicality… top goal, he’s a fantastic world-class player,’ he said.
His captain Jordan Henderson added: ‘His performances are always incredible. The amount of work he does for the team, on and off the ball as well.
Mane has adapted to play more centrally in the front three to accommodate winger Luis Diaz
‘Defending at the end, winning the ball high, his quality around the box and you saw that with his finish. He got us the three points but it was always going to be tough, but it is another big game at the weekend.’
Speculation over Mane’s future at the club intensified ahead of Liverpool’s Midlands trip with his current deal up next year and Bayern Munich circulating.
Reports surfaced that his agent Hasan Salihamidzic held talks with Munich on Friday, amid further links to Barcelona.
Liverpool legend Jamie Carragher waxed lyrical about Mane after he came up trumps once again and joked that we wouldn’t allow him to join the Bundesliga giants.
‘When I have watched Liverpool as a fan, Sadio Mane is my favourite player,’ he told Sky Sports. ‘There is just something about Mane. He’s sacrificed himself at times and the shift he puts in.
Mane produced a magnificent header to seal a 2-1 victory for Liverpool over Villa on Tuesday
His header brought back memories of his clever goal against Villa on their way to title in 2019
‘He, along with Salah, has been doing that for five years – they are never injured! They are there week in, week out for 90 minutes, getting the numbers up there every week. What they have done for this football club is unbelievable.
‘I’m a huge fan of Sadio Mane and I can assure you he will be going nowhere because I will not let him go to Bayern Munich, he’d have me to deal with!’
The 30-year-old not only kept up quadruple dreams but insisted he is ‘honestly very happy’ on Merseyside.
‘Yeah, I am happy here, I think when we win trophies I am happier! But I think I am trying to enjoy every moment, trying to assist my team-mates and I think the boys make it a lot easier for me,’ he said post-match.
‘I am honestly very happy. I am just trying to enjoy every moment and assist my team-mates. Without my team-mates I’m nothing.’
Mane has made a mockery of his £30m switch from Southampton six summers ago by being integral to Klopp’s juggernaut.
Continue in a similar vein and he might just have his best ever season.
|Goals (ex. penalties)||10||12|
|Expected Goals (ex. penalties)||12.32||10.9|
|Total Shots (inc. Blocks)||70||48|
|Shot Conversion Rate (inc. Blocks)||14.3||25|
|Chances Created (inc. assists)||27||28|
|Touches in the Opp Box||169||102|