19th August 2016. By Edward Stratmann.
Sadio Mane couldn't have dreamt of a better start to life at Liverpool. After signing for a staggering £34 million from Southampton, expectations were inherently high that the Senegalese international would come in and make an immediate impact. And, to his credit, that's precisely what he's done.
Having joined early in the window and gotten the benefits of a full preseason under his belt, which afforded him the chance to integrate successfully into the squad, Mane importantly transferred his wicked form from preseason into Liverpool's Premier League opener.
Throughout Liverpool's engrossing 4-3 win over Arsenal, the Reds debutant was a constant menace to the Gunners' backline, with his speed, power and unpredictability proving especially troublesome.
From his right wing post, his movement and positional variations supplied him with a solid foundation to have an unmistakable impact on the contest. Mane would cleverly drift infield at every available opportunity, in a match where he ostensibly operated as an auxiliary centre forward for large parts. This tendency to come central worked well on many levels. It allowed him to use his pace to get in behind the inexperienced Arsenal central defensive pairing of Calum Chambers and Rob Holding, let him combine intricately with his fellow attackers and give his right-back, Nathaniel Clyne, oceans of space to push forward into.
Possessing such frightening pace and acceleration, Mane just never allowed his markers, whether it was his direct opponent Nacho Monreal, Chambers or Holding, a chance to settle, for they knew once he was off, there'd be no catching him. On occasion, not being on the same wave length as a teammate prior to starting his run hindered his effectiveness to get out the back. But nonetheless this mode of attack was a viable source of attacking thrust for Liverpool and consistently stretched the opposition defence.
In addition to his work without the ball, the former Red Bull Salzburg star gave his team plenty of drive and directness in possession too. With Arsenal dominating large periods of the first half, his surging runs in transition were a real highlight for the Reds and gave them a level of offensive impetus they otherwise lacked.
Then, in the second half, he really announced himself on the contest by scoring a scintillating goal that encapsulated so many of his strengths. Here, on 63 minutes, after receiving the ball out wide, he proceeded to take on two Arsenal players in Monreal and Chambers. As he charged upfield down the right, he showcased his immense strength to hold off his opponents, and then used his skills to jink inside and fool both of them.
By now, he found himself just inside the right edge of the 18-yard-box, where he unleashed a sizzling strike into the back of the net on his non preferred left foot. Indeed, this was a moment that undoubtedly endeared himself to the traveling fans and one that illustrated exactly why Jurgen Klopp was so keen to acquire him. In amongst the ecstasy of the goal, the German manager even celebrated the goal by hoisting Mane up to give himÂ a piggy back.
"Jurgen was happy," explained an overjoyed Mane in his post-match comments. That's all. I am really happy to score my first Premier League goal for Liverpool.
"I hope I will continue to find pleasure and give pleasure on the pitch too. The most important thing is to give everything and be the best on the pitch.
"We have a good team. There is positive competition. Each of us is trying to give their best for the club. I think the competition will help us be in top condition."
Following his classy debut, which also saw him contribute manfully on the defensive end by pressing and tackling vigorously, Mane certainly reinforced the point why he's such a perfect fit for Klopp's dynamic, high octane system. After all, working under the now Bayer Leverkusen manager and pressing fanatic, Roger Schmidt, during his time at Red Bull Salzburg and Ronald Koeman at Southampton served as an ideal platform for him to fit in seamlessly at Liverpool.
Whilst the German tactician was happy with the 24-year-old's efforts, he still noted that improvements were needed from his charge. "He was good, but he can do better. In specific moments, he's unbelievably strong," said Klopp.
The challenge ahead now for Mane, after such a promising start to life on Merseyside, is to keep up his incredibly high level. Playing under the expert tutelage of Klopp, and within a philosophy that suits him brilliantly, will certainly give him every chance to do so.
Sadio Mane: A Fantastic Premier League Debut with Liverpool
19th August 2016. By Edward Stratmann.