Sadio Mané: Liverpool’s key factor in recent weeks
Sadio Mané is currently among the best wingers and even players in world football right now. Since his arrival at Liverpool in 2016, he has played at a high level, but he has made another step forward this season. He has played in 33 of the 35 league games until now and scored 18 goals.
However, his performance in the last few games have been outstanding. The Senegalese has scored six goals in his last eight games in the Premier League including the two games against Burnley and Watford when he scored twice. The winger is one of the reasons why Liverpool are still in the title race with three matches to go and in the semi-final of the Champions League. This tactical analysis will show why Mané has been so outstanding this season and especially in the last few weeks.
Mané’s career so far
Mané moved in 2011 from Génération Foot in Senegal to FC Metz. In May 2012 he debuted for the Senegalese national team at the age of 20. He stayed just one season in France and joined Red Bull Salzburg in the summer of 2012. He became one of the best players in the Austrian Bundesliga and so several clubs scouted the young international. Southampton bought the winger in 2014.
At the Saints, he scored 25 times in 75 games and once scored the fastest hat-trick in the history of the Premier League. In two minutes and 56 seconds, he scored three goals against Aston Villa in the 2014/15 season. In 2016 he moved to Liverpool and since then he’s been part of Jürgen Klopp’s team.
Liverpool’s three forwards
Mohammed Salah, Roberto Firmino and Mané together form one of the most dangerous attacking trios in world football these days. In Klopp’s usual 4-3-3, Mané plays on the left wing, Salah on the opposing wing and Firmino between them upfront. However, especially this season, these three men permanently change their positions and rotate very often.
In addition, the Brazilian forward Firmino likes to get involved in the build-up and so he often drops deep. To still have at least one player in the centre, one of the two wingers shifts inside and the wide areas get occupied by one of the full-backs.
Andrew Robertson and Trent Alexander-Arnold always push forward to provide the width to Liverpool’s game and so Mané or Salah or even both can position in the centre. His heatmap shows exactly that. You can find the Senegalese in any position up front.
On some occasions Salah occupies the centre, Firmino drifts over to the left wing and Mané occupies the right. Because of this flexibility and the huge quality of every one of these three players, they are a nightmare for every defence. Furthermore, they harmonise perfectly with each other like the situation below shows.
His development this season shown by statistics
As already mentioned, his performances within the last few weeks have been truly outstanding. This is not just visible when you consider that he scored six goals in his last eight games in the Premier League.
On top of that, his xG per game has increased since the game against Manchester United on the 24th of February. Before that game it averaged 0.33, and since then in the last six games (the last two games against Chelsea and Cardiff aren’t included) his average xG was 0.61.
When you take these six games since the 0-0 against the Red Devils, he has got the second highest average on xG per game of this period in the Premier League. Furthermore, he’s currently in fourth place in the top flight scoring charts with 18 goals. Only Salah, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Sergio Agüero have scored more goals so far. Every one of them has scored 19 goals.
But of course, it’s not about the scoring charts. In every league game this season except two, his team has won when he has scored. Only against West Ham United and Leicester City did he score without Liverpool winning, but they still drew.
The key to this development
The big question is now why his xG and the number of goals have increased so much within the last few matchdays in the Premier League. There are two main reasons for this.
Firstly, the quality of his finishing has got better. Secondly, he has improved his positioning. Everybody knows how fast the winger is, but just one out of his last six goals was after a counter-attack when he used his pace to get behind the defence.
Mané’s shots have also got better this season compared to previous years. He has only taken on average 2.3 shots per game this season and he still managed to score 18 goals. His efforts aren’t the most powerful, but he analyses the positioning of the goalkeeper and places the ball next to him like in the image below. After the sliding tackle of Burnley’s defender, the ball comes to the Senegalese who scores with his first touch.
His greatest weapon in this season is his incredible positioning. Some of his goals look easy but not many players can get themselves so often into such excellent positions. The perfect example is his last goal against Porto in the Champions League.
Salah is on the ball in the penalty box and all the defenders just look at the Egyptian. Mané makes a run behind the defenders and none of them watche or follow him. Salah finds the Senegalese with a perfect pass and he just needs to tap it in.
The goal against Chelsea in the Premier League was similar. The defenders are focused on Jordan Henderson and there is enough space at the far post for the left winger. Liverpool’s captain delivers a great cross and the Senegalese international makes it 1-0.
His weakness and strength at the same time
When you watch Mané on the pitch, you see how much joy of playing he has got. He often uses step-overs to beat his opponents and tries something unexpected. These unexpected actions can be hard to defend for the opposition because they can’t see these coming.
His second goal against Watford shows exactly that unpredictability. He positions himself well between the defenders, but his first touch is bad and because of that he finds himself with his back to the goal. So, he uses his backheel to score an outstanding goal.
But in some situations, his joy of playing is somehow too much. In these cases, he plays like a little child who just wants to create awesome moments. You get the feeling that he perhaps doesn’t take it seriously. As already explained above, this can lead to incredible actions. However, it can be wrong in some situations and then he is too sloppy and he messes up.
To sum it up, his joy of playing helps him to show who he is and to create magical moments, but it also sometimes stands in his way. But exactly these aspects make Mané such a special player and the best player of his country, Senegal.
All in all, he is one of the key factors why Liverpool are playing so well this season. He has also still got the chance to become the top scorer of the Premier League for the first time in his career, and with three games to come his team are still in the title race.
It will be interesting to see how he’ll perform in the final weeks of the season and if his xG per game and his number of actual goals will continue to increase. As soon as the season is over, the next question will be if he stays at Liverpool or joins another club.
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