After taking a break from a very ambivalent season, Melwood is now busy again as Liverpool’s preparations for next season are off and running. Jürgen Klopp prepares for his first full season as Liverpool manager and his men will look to stake their claim for a place among Europe’s elite next season without any distractions from the ‘not-so-elite’ Europa League. While that may be a blessing in disguise, not-so-elite final defeats aside, the fact that Liverpool placed so low down the Barclay’s Premier League table last season shows that room for improvement is plenty. New stewards in the shape of goalkeeper Loris Karius, central defender Joël Matip, and most notably, Sadio Mané have all been brought in to see to just that. In Mané’s case, he is the fourth Southampton player in three years to make the all too familiar move to Anfield. Eyebrows will be invariably raised as the pillage of St Mary’s hasn’t proven to be the formula for great success in the past. Will the £30 million attacking midfielder spell the end to a streak of inadequacy?
Mané made his Southampton debut in 2014 and impressed with his dribbling ability and eye for goal. The Senegal international managed to find the net 10 times in his first season and increased his tally by one in the last, a feat which put him as the club’s joint top scorer. That combined with 3 and 6 assists respectively, speaks to a fair bit of improvement from a player adjusting to top flight football from the Austrian Bundesliga. Such achievements make for good news as it conveys that Mané is still growing albeit rough around the edges. Liverpool has yet to find an attacking midfielder that can consistently step up to the plate and take responsibility in terms of finishing. As a result, their profligacy in front of goal is startling to say the least. Should Sadio continue to tighten his shooting boots even more then there is a strong possibility they may find an answer….or will they?
Many will parade goals and assists at the end of a long season but adding some context to the stats is a necessary tool in assessing how a player performs. What that boils down to is, much like the existing attacking midfield options of Adam Lallana and Phillippe Coutinho, there is an issue of consistency. Of Mané’s 11 goals scored this season, eight came in the last two months of the season. What of the other eight months? He was coasting along, having little to no impact on games. To put it bluntly, he was poor.
Following the 4-2 triumph over Manchester City on May 2nd where Mané netted the fastest ever Premier League hat-trick, former Southampton manager Ronald Koeman had a similar concern:
‘Sadio is a little bit unpredictable sometimes,’ the Dutchman said.
‘He’s still a young player, and young players they need sometimes to be more consistent.
Perhaps such remarks and this late season surge are a sign of things to come. It’s evident that Jürgen Klopp sees something in Mané if he willing to spend so much money and must have a plan for him as he is still developing. That being said, being a great player for Southampton and being a great player for Liverpool are two different things. The microscope will be focused firmly on Mané as imperfections are magnified under the brighter lights at Anfield and scrutiny from the Kop is unrelenting. Sadio may very well become a lethal outlet in the attacking midfield putting up double figure tallies, something Coutinho has yet to do, on a regular basis. That, however, remains to be seen. As of now, three goals spaced across August to March is woefully inadequate and angst is a natural response. Hopefully, when Mané’s acclimatization is complete, the red flags will be flying for the right reasons.