New signing Sadio Mane impressed in Liverpool’s friendly victory at Huddersfield Town, showing flashes of what he will bring to Jurgen Klopp’s attack.
The Reds maintained their 100 percent pre-season record against the Championship outfit, earning a 2-0 victory to claim the Shankly Trophy.
It wasn’t all plain sailing for Liverpool like their previous run-outs, with David Wagner’s side giving the Reds their toughest test yet at a sold-out John Smith’s Stadium.
Klopp, who was forced to deploy makeshift lineups—especially in the second half with young goalkeeper Shamal George comically handed his debut as a striker—can be satisfied with his players’ efforts.
But the Liverpool boss can be especially pleased with the display of Mane, who caught the eye with a performance that showed what he will bring for the 2016/17 campaign and beyond.
Mane vs. Huddersfield
Though missing defensive and midfield options, Klopp thankfully had all of the striking quality currently at his disposal available against the Terriers.
The 49-year-old took full advantage of that luxury, starting his strongest attacking lineup against Wagner’s hardworking outfit.
That saw Brazilian duo Philippe Coutinho and Roberto Firmino deployed alongside the £30 million man—with Mane operating from what looks set to become his usual role on the right side.
Coutinho played from the left side as expected, cutting inside to link up with compatriot Firmino who led the line as Liverpool’s ‘false nine’, leaving the Senegalese as the Reds’ primary wide outlet in the final third.
This is how Mane is expected to slot into Klopp’s side, with the likes of Adam Lallana, James Milner and Lazar Markovic all facing a battle against the new arrival to prove their worth for the role.
A tough fight it promises to be for the trio, with Mane giving an exciting glimpse of what he can provide in Yorkshire, which saw pace, direct play and goal threat in abundance.
Bringing Mane to Anfield for such a significant outlay, Klopp clearly has extreme faith in the ex-Red Bull Salzburg man to provide the extra attacking spark needed.
That includes a blistering element of pace to the forward line—something Liverpool have lacked during Klopp’s short time in charge, preventing the German being able to fully implement his attacking blueprint.
At Huddersfield, Mane provided plenty of showings of the raw speed he will bring, and more importantly, how he can use it as a lethal weapon to break opposing defences.
He gave a taster after 18 minutes, when, as third favourite to get the ball, he breezed past Town’s defender and ‘keeper to race onto a wayward backpass and stab home—only to see his effort harshly ruled out.
This showed how Mane’s pace can prove effective rather than the means for a tactical game-plan, with it able to turn hopeful openings into almost-perfect assists.
But numerous times thereafter he showed how his desire to attack space at lightning speed really can be a game-changing asset—firstly in Liverpool’s opening goal.
With Dejan Lovren looking for a forward pass, the Senegalese burst in behind Huddersfield’s midfield, switching secure possession to attack, before driving forward and releasing Firmino, who crossed perfectly for Grujic to volley the opener.
Mane’s initial eruption of speed provided the trigger for the move for Grujic’s second Reds goal, and once he was off there was no catching him.
The most brutal demonstration came a minute later, however, when Mane won Liverpool’s first penalty of the night.
As Coutinho drifted inside and exchanged with Firmino, Mane spotted the No. 10’s intentions and instantly made the piercing central run he knew the Brazilian wanted.
Timing his dart perfectly, he left two defenders for dead to latch onto the through pass, before trying to round Joel Coleman, who fouled him for the spot-kick.
Coutinho missed Liverpool’s second pre-season penalty, but in the blink of an eye, Liverpool had gone from promising position to goalscoring chance—something that previously hasn’t been possible when Lallana or Milner have filled the role.
Mane’s searing pace and movement caused all manner of problems, and this provides further promise over the attacking versatility and impact he can make.
Much has centred on Mane being the new width provider in attack, with that a key reason in Klopp’s decision to bring him to Merseyside.
But importantly, he showed welcome versatility and unpredictability to his game alongside signs of the impact he can offer.
Intelligently, he mixed providing width with drifting inside to join in buildup play, and also being the man to break defensive lines—forming a dominant right side with the overlapping Connor Randall as a result.
A lot of good came from Mane’s running, but his unpredictability on the ball was pleasing too—happy to drive on the outside as well as cutting inside to fire at goal with his left foot, which he nearly scored from twice.
Such play made Mane an unpredictable and exciting outlet, and one who looks capable of providing the complementary figure to Liverpool’s chief creators.
Another area of real promise was the timing of Mane’s of runs, with the 24-year-old consistently breaking through at just the right time to race away, while also showing how his speed is tailor-made for the Reds’ high press.
Mane ruthlessly exploited Huddersfield’s high defensive line during the opening 45 minutes—when rushing in the channel and between the home defenders to drag Liverpool onto the front foot.
The first-half penalty award came from Coutinho, but most of Liverpool’s openings before the interval came down the right, with Mane at the heart of it.
A goal was the only feature missing from a promising outing from the new recruit, who showed the extra dimension he will bring.
On his showings so far this pre-season, Mane looks like he can certainly provide a welcome added weapon to Klopp’s armoury for next season.