Sadio Mane truth emerges as unlikely situation arises at Liverpool
When you’re fortunate enough to have the best player in the world in your side, they tend to cover up any issues other members of the squad are experiencing.
Mohamed Salah is in the form of his life, no matter what FIFPro might think. If he scores or assists against Newcastle on Thursday he will equal a Premier League record.
In fact, Liverpool’s 2-0 win over Atletico Madrid is Salah’s only appearance this season in which he has failed to create or score a goal. It’s a stunning record.
But other players have not been so productive lately, and Sadio Mane is chief among them. He is on the verge of equalling the longest goal contribution drought of his Liverpool career.
Such a situation seemed unlikely when Mane opened the scoring in the recent 4-0 victory over Arsenal, later also setting up a goal for Salah.
It was the first time he had both assisted and scored in a single match since the 3-1 win at Tottenham last January and gave the Reds’ number 10 a very healthy total of nine goals and an assist from his first 10 starts in 2021/22.
But in the six matches since then, nothing. He also went six starts (plus two brief substitution appearances) without making a goal contribution last season, a campaign in which he publicly admitted he was not at his best.
However, you have to go back to the early months of 2018/19 to find the only occasion in Mane’s Liverpool career that he went seven consecutive starts without a goal or assist.
After scoring in three of the first four games of that season, the Senegalese international was in Jurgen Klopp’s XI for matches against Tottenham, PSG, Southampton, Chelsea (twice, once in the League Cup), Napoli and Manchester City without adding to his tally.
In fairness to Mane, that must be one of the hardest septet of consecutive fixtures that Liverpool will have ever faced.
Clearly, he won’t want to match that seven-match contribution-free run though, and there’s good reason to think he can assist or (more likely) score against Newcastle.
While the Magpies haven’t been his favourite opponent with the Reds – that would be Crystal Palace – he does have a healthy record of four goals in 624 minutes played against them.
There are no assists on his Newcastle ledger, but he has created a clear-cut chance in two of their last three visits to Anfield.
As they have conceded more of these high value chances than any other team in the Premier League this season, Mane might easily set up a golden opportunity for a teammate on Thursday evening.
In the last six games, Mane has had 15 shots which have been worth a combined total of 1.64 expected goals.
By contrast, he has provided five chances for others, which have been valued at 0.32 expected assists. The simple law of averages suggests his next goal will be coming along far sooner than the next one he sets up.
And if we look back before the Arsenal game in which he headed in a Trent Alexander-Arnold free-kick, we see that Mane has only converted one of his last five clear-cut chances too, so a little heating up in this regard is not out of the question either.
Newcastle could easily be on the receiving end of some serious reversion to the mean if Klopp opts to select Mane in his front three for the match. And if not, well, there’s always Salah to contend with.