How important was the Sadio Mane goal in Liverpool’s 3-1 defeat of Manchester City last week? Not very, you might say, considering it was Liverpool’s third of the match and only extended a healthy two goal lead to a decisive 3-0 lead.
Of course, the fact that Manchester City then scored a late goal made Mane’s goal at least a tad more valuable.
But such as been the impact Mane has had on Liverpool’s recent matches that this was actually one of his least dramatic – least meaningful – contributions to the European champions’ remarkable unbeaten start to the Premier League season.
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Think about it: Sadio Mane’s timely interventions have proved the key to victory in no less than five of Liverpool’s 12 matches this season. It’s a trend that’s been especially prevalent over the previous four, close fought matches. Even against City, his goal apart, Mane’s run and cross helped set up Fabinho’s stunning opening goal.
Here’s a look at some of those decisive moments.
Opening Stunner at St. Mary’s
His first big moment came at Southampton in week two – Mane’s first start of the season. Liverpool had endured a shaky first half, with Southampton spurning a couple of good scoring chances. But right before half time, James Milner stole the ball after a throw in and found Mane just inside the Southampton box. Mane drifted past two defenders and curled a superb shot into the top corner to give Liverpool the lead and settle their jitters. They would go on to win 2-1.
Comeback Double at Anfield
Newcastle took a shock early lead at Anfield in week five, and Liverpool had to dig their way back from a deficit for the first time this season. It took the 37th minute arrival of Roberto Firmino – on for the injured Divock Origi – for Liverpool to assert control, but Mane’s two goals were just as crucial. He dragged Liverpool level with another exquisite top-bin curler just before the half hour, and then tapped in from close range to put them ahead after an incisive pass from Firmino. Mohammed Salah added a third in the second half to secure the points.
Outfoxing the Foxes
Mane put up a Man of the Match performance to see off a stiff Leicester challenge in dramatic fashion at Anfield in week 8. Liverpool dominated Brendan Rodgers’ side but their finishing let them down – until Mane ran through on Milner’s curled pass and planted his shot firmly past Kasper Schmeichel for the first goal. Leicester found an 80th minute equaliser through James Madison and seemed set to escape with a point. But Mane’s refusal to give up bore fruit in the 92nd minute when Seamus Coleman fouled him in the box to give Liverpool a late, controversial penalty. Milner slammed home to give Liverpool the win.
More Penalty Drama at Anfield
Week ten and another close fought game at Anfield seemed to be drifting towards a draw after Jordan Henderson’s second half goal cancelled out Harry Kane’s first minute opener for Spurs. But Mane stepped in again. His driving run into the Tottenham box unsettled Serge Aurier, provoking a rash challenge that left referee Anthony Taylor little choice but to point to the spot. This time, it was Salah that slotted the winner in from the penalty spot.
Late Show at Villa Park
Liverpool left things pretty late at Villa Park in week eleven, but Mane was again at the very centre of their survival act. Villa scored early and frustrated Liverpool with some resolute defending. It took till three minutes from the end for the visitors to find a leveller, Andrew Robertson nodding him Man’s left footed floater from close in. Then Mane sealed the win in added time with a well-taken header from Trent Alexander-Arnold’s corner kick. Three more points for Liverpool.
Mane scored 22 goals last season to take a share of the Golden Boot and his seven goals and one assist have already played a big part in Liverpool’s blistering start to the new season. Yet, those impressive numbers hardly tell the full story of his contribution.
His ability to step up and make the difference at key moments has been even more valuable.
(Images courtesy LFCTV GO)