Mane’s relentless and humble masterclass shows Liverpool hunger for more honours
The Senegal striker mixes athleticism, drive and a lack of ego to epitomise the attitude Klopp has instilled in his players
It is curious to recall how, the first time Jurgen Klopp set eyes on Sadio Mane, he decided: “I don’t have time for this.” Normally a good judge of character, he was put off by the askew baseball cap and the blond streak running through his hair: affectations, he feared, that would be too much trouble to tame. Fast-forward from that initial meeting in Dortmund, and it would be difficult to identify a player who more encapsulates the Klopp credo. His second goal against Chelsea, at the expense of the doomed Kepa Arrizabalaga, was a miniaturist study in the qualities that have made Liverpool so relentless: off-the-ball movement, the forcing of a fumble, the implacable commitment to atone for even the slightest error.
With Klopp, it is always about the philosophy. Take his reaction to the applause from Liverpool’s bench when Andreas Christensen was sent off. “We never do that,” he snapped, to cue instant silence.
Mane dovetails perfectly with his vision, as a No10 who resists celebrating too ostentatiously and whose response to giving the ball away is to win it back.
Klopp can have few concerns about Mane’s towering performance breeding a sense of entitlement. When once he scored a decisive goal to defeat Leicester, he headed straight to Liverpool’s Al Rahma mosque to help clean bathrooms. “He wanted to remain discreet,” the resident imam said, as a video of the moment sparked a fan frenzy. “He’s not a person looking for fanfare. There’s no arrogance.”
This was like the message from Klopp to the Liverpool substitutes who cheered Christensen’s dismissal. Never crow.
Never suggest a superiority complex or revel in others’ misfortune. But not all their rivals buy into such a virtuous image. Just ask Frank Lampard, a winner of three Premier League titles, who last season tried to rile Klopp and his team by shouting: “Only league title you’ve ever won and you’re giving it the big ’un.”
Direction of play
Admittedly, there can be some embellishment of the fabled “Liverpool Way” under Klopp. “We are a different kind of club,” he said this month, a little too smugly for some, as he sought to argue that his club had a more frugal transfer policy than most. Then, days later, he was spending a combined £70million on Diogo Jota and Thiago Alcantara. Perhaps the true difference with Liverpool’s acquisitions lies in the immediacy of their impact. On his debut, Thiago provided 75 passes in 45 minutes, more than any Chelsea player managed in the entire match.
It must be frightening to rivals how seamlessly they augment their prodigious strengths. Where Chelsea take a £47.5million punt on Timo Werner, who spurned firsthalf chances galore yesterday, Liverpool pick up Thiago, last seen choreographing Bayern Munich’s Champions League triumph, for less than half that price.
Up front Mane is so dynamic, so consistent. This brilliant Senegalese now has 83 goals for his club, eclipsing even Luis Suarez. In the Premier League, he has scored more times than Cristiano Ronaldo. Not for nothing is Mane sometimes characterised as Ronaldo without the preening. All the signature attributes were there in abundance at Stamford Bridge: the poise, the athleticism, the speed, the ability to be as lethal with his head as he is with his right boot.
The game’s crucial moment, the
The average position of seven Liverpool players was inside the Chelsea half...
...whereas, no Chelsea player’s average position was inside the Liverpool half
Appears easy: Sadio Mane makes it look simple as he heads in Liverpool’s opener
tackle by Christensen on Mane, came because the Dane did not dare let him escape. When referee Paul Tierney had to decide between a yellow and a red card, he had one factor to consider: would Mane have reached the ball? The desperation of the lunge gave him the answer.
Back when he was at Red Bull Salzburg, team-mates would marvel at how Mane would spend every spare moment perfecting his core stability exercises. In his fifth season at Liverpool, the fruits of those labours are made manifest.
Look at his headed goal to quell Chelsea’s resistance. It was not straightforward at all, with Mane peeling away from goal to receive the ball, but the positioning of his body was so accurate that he made it appear so.
When he gifted possession to Fikayo Tomori, a pained little jump conveyed his disgust. But rather than slouch, he bore down on the hapless Kepa, intercepting the clearance to put Liverpool out of sight.
It is the type of hustle that Klopp adores. He could not conjure a better striker if he was asked to draw one. Better still, there is a guaranteed absence of ego, with Mane eschewing Ferraris and Hublot watches in favour of sending money back to his family in Senegal.
Liverpool delivered a reminder to the Premier League yesterday that their appetite to defend their title is insatiable.
It is a quest that seems destined to succeed, thanks to the magnificence of Mane.