Throughout a brilliant Liverpool career, Sadio Mane could never be described as a support act – but it does no harm to deliver a timely reminder of why he is virtually indispensable to Jurgen Klopp’s team.

The 30-year-old Senegal forward is a quiet, understated personality but a devastating attacking operator who has contributed hugely to Liverpool’s resurgence in recent years.

Mane has played key roles in Liverpool winning the Champions League in 2019, then their first English title in 30 years the following season, putting them alongside Manchester City as the Premier League’s two stand-out sides and among Europe’s elite.

And, with one subtle turn of his head, Mane made another crucial contribution at Villa Park – just when Liverpool’s attempt to win a historic quadruple looked under further threat after Saturday’s draw with Spurs.

Only a win would do for Klopp’s men and, with the score locked at 1-1 after 65 minutes, the anxiety was growing.

And then Mane proved his class again.

The outstanding Luis Diaz was the creator with a cross that was not quite inch-perfect, but Mane’s awareness, precision and athleticism meant he could angle a header beyond the outstretched left arm of Villa keeper Emiliano Martinez even though he was almost on the retreat.

It was the vital moment, a somewhat chaotic Liverpool display still bringing them the three points that leaves them behind leaders Manchester City only on goal difference with two games to play. City must now respond at Wolves on Wednesday.

Klopp looked like he might have to be surgically removed from around Mane as he hugged the striker after the final whistle, public recognition of his value.

And it all came amid sudden speculation about Mane’s long-term Liverpool future.

Aston Villa 1-2 Liverpool: Klopp says victory over Villa is ‘massive’

All the attention has centred on whether Mohamed Salah will agree a new Liverpool deal, with negotiations dragging on and no firm resolution in sight – but what about Mane?

Like Salah, Mane’s Liverpool contract ends after next season and if Salah’s deal is the major item on the agenda for Liverpool’s decision makers after Klopp’s new deal, then Mane should not be far behind.

He has played 266 games in all competitions since joining Liverpool from Southampton for £34m in June 2016, his goal at Villa bringing his tally to 119. He has scored 22 goals in 48 games in all competitions this season, with 15 goals in 33 league games.

These are high-class statistics that prove Mane is a player of the highest quality. He is unselfish and can work right across the front-three attacking system Klopp prefers.

The names of Bayern Munich and even Real Madrid were mentioned in connection with Mane this week and it is easy to see why any club in Europe would want him – but Liverpool will want him more.

Mane said after his match-winning performance: “I’m honestly very happy. I am just trying to enjoy every moment and assist my team-mates. Without my team-mates, I’m nothing.”

Of his burgeoning understanding with the electric Diaz, he said: “We know each other well from training every day. When he got the ball I knew he was going to cross so I was just going to be ready for it.”

Klopp, predictably, could barely contain his admiration for Mane.

“He’s a machine,” said the German. “I told him after the game. He’s a massive, massive player. His physicality is brutal, and this mix of technique, desire and then physicality – in the moment when everybody obviously has a few yards in the legs you can see it with him, to be honest. Top goal, a fantastic world class player.”

It was some reference from Liverpool’s manager for one of Anfield’s quiet men.

Mane, meanwhile, let his actions speak for themselves as he kept his team in the hunt for history, with League Cup secured, an FA Cup final against Chelsea at Wembley on Saturday, a Champions League final against Real Madrid at the end of the month and – thanks to his brilliant winner – a Premier League title challenge that is still alive.

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.