41. Sadio Mané
Among seven new arrivals at Anfield last summer, Sadio Mané was the most intriguing of all ahead of Jürgen Klopp’s first full season at Liverpool.
The 25-year-old completed two years at Southampton before coming in as something of a wildcard for Liverpool supporters. When reports of the club’s interest in the winger emerged, there was a considerable measure of scepticism among fans after Liverpool failed to sign Mario Götze, who chose to return to Borussia Dortmund, so Mané become the alternative.
The cynicism was magnified by the winger’s eye-watering price tag of £34m as the club has had its share of big-money failures in Andy Carroll and Christian Benteke, so fans were rightfully wary, particularly given his inconsistency at Southampton.
Klopp kept his faith in his long-term target from his time at Dortmund and Mané confounded expectations.
Mané announced himself on the biggest stage of the Reds’ summer: Wembley Stadium.
In a friendly against Barcelona, he broke the deadlock in just 15 minutes, scoring his first goal in a Liverpool shirt in a 4-0 victory and it was certainly a statement display for the campaign ahead.
Sadio Mané scored his first competitive goal for Liverpool on the opening day of the season, with a solo effort at the Emirates Stadium in a spectacular 4-3 win for the Reds. He then added to the list with two goals in the league cup at Burton Albion and terrorised Danny Rose in his third outing against Tottenham.
In just seven games Mané scored three and assisted three. His pace, movement and powerful, direct running style soon became an indispensable cog in Klopp’s attacking unit, fostering his immediate chemistry with Philippe Coutinho and Roberto Firmino.
His crucial goals against Leicester, Everton and two in both meetings with Arsenal meant that Sadio scored more match-winners than any of his Liverpool teammates (five). No Liverpool fan will ever forget how he ruined Christmas for Everton fans with a 94th minute winner.
However, most indicative of his importance was Liverpool’s struggle in his absence during the Africa Cup of Nations in January and when he picked up an injury which saw him sidelined for the final two months of the season. Jürgen Klopp was forced to experiment without his natural winger, and three of Liverpool’s six league losses and three of ten draws came when he was unavailable.
Mané became irreplaceable in just ten months at Liverpool, in what was a near-flawless season for him. His impact is immeasurable and he immediately established himself as a key player on the right flank and that was recognised when he picked up Liverpool’s Player of the Season award, beating off competition from Adam Lallana, Coutinho and Firmino.
Having played in the Premier League for three seasons, Mané can be expected to continue to improve the Reds’ attack and with Mohamed Salah joining him on the opposite wing, the pace will be terrifying for the opposition.
Sadio is on the mend after having knee surgery in April and is set to return for the pre-season preparations and the winger will be working towards recapturing his form and fitness before the season kicks off on August 12th.
With Liverpool back in Europe, Mané’s incisive forward play will be as crucial as ever and fortunately there is no AFCON until 2019 he will hopefully enjoy a successful full season with the Reds. His pace is key to unlocking defences and he will thrive on Champions League nights.
Hopefully he will be able to celebrate much more than a top-four finish next season!
By: Roopa Vyas/@LFC_RV