By Aaron Cawley.
Rafa Benitez had Fernando Torres, Brendan Rodgers had Luis Suarez and now Jürgen Klopp has Sadio Mané. What do all these players have in common? Well, without them in the various teams Liverpool don’t aren’t the same entity.
Look at how bad Liverpool became after Torres and Suarez were sold. No goal threat and regularly finishing outside the European positions.
Getting rid of Suarez eventually cost Rodgers his job at Liverpool and while Kenny Dalglish came in to Liverpool with Torres leaving, if he been able to hold on to the Spaniard I think he would have lasted more than 18 months at the helm of Liverpool.
This season Mané has been absent from the Liverpool team for all of the games in January, a month where Liverpool won just one game — an FA Cup replay at League 2 Plymouth.
He missed the defeats to Burnley and Swansea. In fact so far this season Liverpool have only lost one game with Mané in the side, that was a 4-3 defeat at Bournemouth.
Without knowing it, Klopp has appeared to have turned Liverpool into a one man team.
In the absence of Mané, Klopp has tried Divock Origi, Roberto Firmino, Philippe Coutinho, Daniel Sturridge, Ben Woodburn, Sheji Ojo and Adam Lallana in the wide position Mané normally plays in but none of these players have the same impact on the pitch as Mané does.
In the 19 Premier League games Mané has played, Liverpool have won 13, lost one and drawn 5. It is clear to see that Liverpool’s attack is not as potent when the Senegalese player is absent from it. Hence the reason fans are jubilant that he has returned from the AFCON.
Mané himself has scored 9 goals, created 33 chances and has 4 assists. For many he is the best bit of business Liverpool have done with Southampton over the last 5 years.
So what is it about Mané that has Liverpool relying so heavily on. If you look at his stats, he wins on average 46% of his duels, has a 59% shot accuracy and has a 79% pass accuracy. Reading those, it does not make sense why he is Liverpool’s most important player.
His biggest attribute though comes in the form of his constant running up and down the flank, dragging opposition players out of position which leave gaps for the likes of Coutinho, Firmino, Lallana, Origi and Sturridge to exploit.
I know some say Liverpool play better when an attacking 6 of Georginio Wijnaldum, Jordan Henderson, Lallana, Coutinho, Mané and Firmino, something fans have not seen since Coutinho got injured on the 6th November last year.
In all those games where Liverpool’s first choice attacking line up has not played together Liverpool have lost twice in the league, won 5 games and drawn 2. I am not counting cup games because the only one would realistically have played in would be the Southampton defeat.
For all the lauding of Klopp and his renaissance of Liverpool since he took over, without Mané in the side I doubt Liverpool would be sitting fourth in the league with an outside chance of winning the competition and gaining that all important Champions League qualification.
Mané this season has turned himself in to Liverpool’s MVP. While I do not think that was the plan when Klopp brought him to Anfield, it had panned out that way.
For Liverpool to become successful in the future, the players playing around Mané need to step up and take the bull by the horns and become as influential on the pitch as Mané is. None of the other teams in and around Liverpool rely so heavily on just the one player as Liverpool do on Mané.
This is something that Klopp needs to learn. While it may be ok in Germany to have one or two top quality players, in the Premier League teams need at least two world class players in every position.
As it stands the only position on the pitch where that’s viable at Liverpool is in attack. Some might not class Coutinho and Firmino as world class yet, but mark my words, in 2-3 years time, they will be tearing up the Premier League.
Who can Klopp bring in to lift the burden of Mané in the summer, god knows, but I do know everyone has their own favourites from Jonathan Tah in defence to Christian Pulisic in attack. As I’ve said before, Klopp needs a big summer to appease a small minority of the moronic fans who want him out.