In the space of twelve months Sadio Mane has been gone from arguably the most important to arguably the most expendable member of Liverpool’s front three. The Anfield outfit didn’t actually win a Premier League fixture without the Senegalese attacker until April last term.
But this time around Mane couldn’t guarantee a starting berth when Philippe Coutinho was at the club, while Mohamed Salah has emerged as Liverpool’s most talismanic influence on the opposite flank and Roberto Firmino’s further established himself as the most integral component of the way Jurgen Klopp’s side function in attack.
After Salah limped off in the first half during Saturday’s Champions League final, it was Mane who managed to up his game. In fact, the African forward scored Liverpool’s only goal of the match, latching onto a Dejan Lovren knockdown to poke home from long range, and hit the woodwork in the 70th minute with an effort that could have changed the entire complexion of the match.
Perhaps that shouldn’t be so surprising, because Mane has all the requisites to make an impact against high quality opponents – something which was a defining feature of his previous spell at Southampton. He knows where the goal is, he’s frighteningly quick and perhaps more importantly, relentlessly energetic. That was highlighted best on Saturday by returns of four dribbles and six tackles.
And yet, that also highlights perhaps the biggest problem with Mane, in regards to Liverpool’s ambitions of becoming regular challengers for the Premier League and Champions League titles. While he remains a fantastic asset to have in big games, he’s still not a driving force in the same way as Salah. He could only do so much in the Egyptian’s absence but had Mane limped off instead on Saturday, Liverpool would have felt far more confident of still matching Real Madrid for attacking verve.
Of course, that’s not to discredit Mane’s performance, and that’s not to ignore the obvious elephant in the room – the two Loris Karius howlers that cost Liverpool the game. But it does highlight the subtle yet important difference between Salah and Mane – while the former is capable of doing it all on his own when needed, the latter just can’t quite do the same and doesn’t inspire the same level of confidence. He can score goals and he can make an impact, but he can’t decide matches single-handed.
It’s simplistic to suggest Liverpool need two Mohamed Salahs – if it was that easy, every team in the Premier League would sign three or four this summer. But if the Reds wish to return to the Champions League final in the coming years, they need an upgrade on Mane to serve as another key driving force.