Right on the mane
Senegal striker provides the creative spark that Liverpool lack
BURTON ALBION 0
(Divock Origi 15, Roberto Firmino 22, Tom Naylor 61-og, Daniel Sturridge 78, 83)
At the post-match press conference, Juergen Klopp resembled an over-protective father trying to shield his child prodigy from premature spotlight.
"I really like this player, but I don't like to talk too much after only two games for him," said the German, after watching his £30-million ($53.8m) summer arrival Sadio Mane produce a Man-of-the-Match performance yesterday morning (Singapore time) to inspire Liverpool to a 5-0 away win over Burton Albion in the second round of the League Cup.
"It's not that we have to pat ourselves on the back every day at signing him. We have to try and improve.
"There is nothing else to say about this at the moment."
Liverpool manager Juergen Klopp.
The Reds boss was clearly trying to manage the growing expectations after the 24-year-old Mane inspired them to the third round, but his efforts would prove futile.
He was ultimately unable to control the wave of plaudits for the Senegal international on social media where, just three matches into the new season, some are already hailing him as Liverpool's best player.
During this short period, Mane has dramatically transformed from a dodgy signing to a potential game-changer.
Sadio Mane. PHOTO: AFP
The initial scepticism came from fear, a by-product of recent high-profile transfer market failures.
Liverpool's other two £30m men turned out to be spectacular flops.
Striker Andy Carroll, signed for £35m in 2011, was a waste of money. Christian Benteke, who cost £32.5m last year, turned out to be a square peg trying to squirm into a round hole.
And then there was also the country of Mane's origin, which triggered a deluge of painful memories for Liverpool supporters.
The last time the club ventured to Senegal to scout for gems, they brought back serial-spitter El Hadji Diouf and a wooden midfield puppet in Salif Diao.
But Mane is clearly a class apart from his fellow countrymen.
At the Pirelli Stadium yesterday morning, Klopp made four changes to the side that surprisingly lost 2-0 to Burnley in a Premier League encounter last Saturday, and Mane was the one who reminded everyone what the team were missing.
From the right side of Liverpool's attacking midfield three, he provided the natural width and pace that Adam Lallana could not offer last season.
The spontaneity and speed of Mane's footwork in the penalty box, and the panache and technique to weave in and out of tight spaces, clearly added a lethal dimension to his side's attacking game.
Add to those qualities his hunger and willingness to close down opponents high up the field, and he looks a natural fit in Klopp's high-octane pressing game.
Arsenal legend Thierry Henry expects great things to come from the former Southampton player.
Asked recently who he thought could be the most exciting player in the Premiership this term, he said: "There's the usual suspects like Zlatan (Ibrahimovic) and (Paul) Pogba.
"But the outsider for me who I think will have a good season is Sadio Mane at Liverpool.
"I want to see how he is going to do and with the way Liverpool play I think he could have a very good season and be a crowd favourite."
If there is a chink in Mane's armour, it is his tendency to blow hot and cold, as former Saints manager Ronald Koeman once pointed out.
Inconsistency was Liverpool's weakness, too, throughout their 2015/16 campaign, and the early indications of this campaign suggested that Klopp may have some work yet to do in this respect.
Mane, though, wasted no time to show what he's capable of against Burton Albion yesterday morning.
He played a part in three of Liverpool's five goals.
He raced to the byeline to cross for Divock Origi to score an early opening goal, then set Nathaniel Clyne free on the right flank for him to send in the cross for Roberto Firmino to nod in the second.
An own goal after the break and a typical poacher's goal by Daniel Sturridge made it 4-0, before Mane supplied the final pass for Sturridge in the 83rd minute to complete the rout.
Mane might have looked every bit the flat track bully against inferior opposition, but his scintillating display in the 4-3 victory over Arsenal in Liverpool's opening Premiership game suggested there is also a big-game temperament in those lightning-quick feet.
"If he was to do that every single week, then come next summer, he would be playing for one of the big boys in Spain," said Southampton great Matthew Le Tissier, of his performance against the Gunners.
It's early days yet, but Liverpool's No. 19 is certainly well on track to become the next Kop hit.
It’s not that we have to pat ourselves on the back every day at signing him.
— Liverpool manager Juergen Klopp on Sadio Mane