Sadio Mane is first up in our series of Liverpool player reviews for the 2016/17 campaign, with the attacker one of Jurgen Klopp‘s standout stars.
Among seven new arrivals on Merseyside last summer, Mane was one of the most intriguing signings ahead of Klopp’s first full campaign as Reds manager.
The 24-year-old, who had spent two years with Southampton prior to making the move to Merseyside, came in as something of a wildcard for supporters.
But how has Mane fared over the past 10 months? Has he justified Klopp’s enthusiasm?
Here, we take a look at the Senegalese’s first season with the Reds: the highs, the lows and all that came in between.
On as a substitute: 1
Unused sub: 2
Average TIA Player Rating: 7.25 (Rank = 1st)
A £30 Million Question Mark
When reports of Liverpool’s interest in Mane emerged, there was a considerable measure of scepticism among the Reds faithful.
With a move for Klopp’s former Borussia Dortmund protege Mario Gotze crumbling, and the Germany international instead opting to rejoin his old side, Mane was seen as a questionable alternative.
This cynicism was magnified by the winger’s eye-watering price tag: after four sales over the previous two years, Southampton finally hit the £30-million mark in a deal with Liverpool.
After big-money failures in Andy Carroll and Christian Benteke, supporters were rightfully wary on Mane’s arrival at the end of June, particularly given his inconsistency on the south coast.
In his 67 Premier League appearances for Southampton, Mane only scored or assisted in 32.8 percent, continuing a trend from his last season with Red Bull Salzburg (33.3 percent).
That Liverpool had reportedly turned down the opportunity to sign Mane for £10 million when he was still in Austria in 2014 served as another red flag.
But with Klopp keeping faith in a long-term target from his time at Dortmund, Mane swiftly allayed concerns and confounded expectations.
Defying the Odds at Anfield
Mane performed encouragingly, if quietly, throughout a busy pre-season schedule, seemingly biding his time to announce himself on the biggest stage of the Reds’ summer: Wembley.
It took him just 15 minutes to break the deadlock in August’s 4-0 friendly win over Barcelona, and this proved to be a statement display for the campaign ahead.
He scored his first competitive goal for the Reds on the opening day of the season, with his stunning solo effort away to Arsenal, laid on two more in his next appearance against Burton Albion in the League Cup, and terrorised Danny Rose in his third outing against Tottenham.
In his first seven games in a Liverpool shirt, Mane’s lowest This is Anfield player rating was a 7, averaging an 8.23 over that period, scoring three and assisting three.
Mane’s pace, movement and powerful, direct running style quickly became an indispensable cog in Klopp’s attacking unit, with the No. 19 fostering an immediate chemistry with Philippe Coutinho and Roberto Firmino.
He scored crucial goals against Leicester City, Everton, Spurs and on two occasions against the Gunners, producing more match-winners than any other Liverpool player (five).
Even when off the boil, Mane was rarely the Reds’ worst player, receiving just three ratings of 5, and one 5.5.
He ended the season with 13 goals and eight assists in 29 appearances, boosting his average of direct goal contributions in the Premier League to 48.2 percent.
Most indicative of his importance, however, was Liverpool’s struggle when he was absent, both on the turn of the year during the Africa Cup of Nations and when injured in the final two months of the season.
Klopp was forced to experiment without his only natural winger, and three of the Reds’ six losses in the league, as well as three of their 10 draws, came when he was unavailable.
Put simply, Mane has made himself irreplaceable in 10 short months at Anfield, enjoying a near-flawless 2016/17.
Liverpool’s Player of the Season
Though he faced convincing competition from Coutinho, Firmino and Adam Lallana, there was a sense of vindication when Mane picked up Liverpool’s Player of the Season award at the beginning of May.
The 24-year-old’s impact has been immeasurable, immediately establishing himself as a key player on the right flank, and highlighting Klopp’s transfer nous.
Already settled in England and now boasting three seasons of experience in the Premier League, Mane can be expected to continue to improve in the Reds’ attack.
On the mend after knee surgery in April, Mane is set to return for the start of Liverpool’s pre-season preparations, where he can work towards recapturing form and fitness.
With Liverpool back in Europe next season, Mane’s incisive forward play will be as crucial as ever, particularly if Coutinho moves into a deeper role in midfield.
Mane was, unequivocally, the Reds’ standout star in 2016/17, and supporters can hope for much more to come.
Role in 2017/18
Mane will continue to play a key role next season, and with no AFCON tournament, he’ll be able to hopefully play a full role throughout the season, which is a huge positive.
His pace is key to unlocking defences and is a player who will thrive on Champions League nights.
If Liverpool add a player of his quality and calibre for the left of the front three, with Coutinho dropping into the midfield, we could be celebrating much more than just a top-four finish next May.
Best moment: Debut goal against Arsenal
Worst moment: Season-ending injury in the derby
Role next season: Key player