No, not Gareth Bale, Roberto Firmino or Karim Benzema. The trio are all match winners and game changers in their own right.
The Champions League final could be the game which sees Sadio Mane announce himself on the biggest stage of them all, and our friends at Football Whispers detail exactly why.
Many raised an eyebrow in January when Liverpool sanctioned a deal to sell Philippe Coutinho to Barcelona. The Reds were compensated with a fee which saw the Brazilian become the second-most expensive in the world, behind only Neymar, but choosing not to replace him, with the season going so well, was a risk the club didn’t need to take.
At the time, a place in next season’s Champions League wasn’t guaranteed. Arsenal, Manchester United and Chelsea all, on paper at least, had strengthened. But, fortunately for the Merseysiders, Jurgen Klopp had a plan in place. He just didn’t feel the need to advertise it.
Mane was his man. The ace up his sleeve. The player to take up the mantle of the magician.
The 26-year-old speedster underwent a transformation midway through the season and it went under the radar. Since the departure of Coutinho, the Liverpool No.19 has taken up more of a creative role in the Liverpool XI. He’s not just doing a job there, either, he’s thriving in the role.
The persona profile above, exclusive to Football Whispers, shows the style of a player by grouping the characteristics of their game into certain categories. The one above compares Mane from August 2016 to January 2018 and February 2018 to now. The Senegalese flyer has subtly tweaked his game and the profile backs it up.
He’s no longer as much of an individual, with his dribbling characteristic now much smaller while his chance creation and shooting tendencies have spiked. When comparing Mane’s stats this season to those he posted last season it paints a similar picture.
On a per 90 minute basis he’s attempting the same amount of passes (40) and completing a similar amount (31) but he’s playing more open play key passes (1.71 up from 1.56) and he’s created more big chances (0.36 up from 0.16).
He’s also attempting more shots (2.85 from 2.29) but is having fewer touches in the opposition’s penalty area (5.79 down from 6.62) and his successful dribble number is down by 0.54.
Since Coutinho’s departure, Mane has 14 goals involvements in 23 matches. The majority of that number is made up of goals (11) but it’s coincided with him drifting into central areas, positions usually associated with a No.10, meaning he’s in more dangerous areas during the second phase of play – cutbacks, crosses and rebounds – and has been reaping the rewards.
Plenty of teams this year have struggled to keep tabs on Liverpool’s prolific front three and Real Madrid aren’t the best defensively on a good day. Mane has the potential to have Zidane’s defence on strings in Kyiv.
He’s the man providing the ammunition for Firmino and Salah, but he’s also a goal threat himself, as highlighted by his 19 goals in all competitions this season. He could be the beneficiary of Zinedine Zidane instructing his players to keep a closer eye on Liverpool’s top scoring duo.
Jurgen Klopp’s worked some wonders during his time at Anfield but he’s also an illusionist in the way he’s tricked the world into believing Mane poses the least threat of his front three when in fact he could be the most dangerous.