No Liverpool player performed better than Sadio Mane in a legendary title-winning season, as his status as a true Reds legend was cemented.
Mane completed three years of brilliance at Liverpool in style last year, clinching Champions League success and emerging as arguably the best left-sided player in world football.
A game-changing signing in 2016, it was the Senegalese who acted as the catalyst for Liverpool’s rise under Jurgen Klopp, adding a whole new dimension to the Reds’ attack.
Big things were again expected of Mane as Klopp’s men started their 2019/20 campaign – at 28, he was primed to go one better and inspire his side to Premier League glory.
To say he delivered would be an understatement.
Sadio Mane, 2019/20
Started: 41 (All competitions)
On as a substitute: 6
Unused sub: 2
Overall Season Rating: 9.5
From the off, Mane had the bit between his teeth and he played a major role in Liverpool’s first trophy of the season.
A superb double helped the Reds get past Chelsea in the UEFA Super Cup, one of which was a perfectly guided finish off the underside of the crossbar.
It has been said many times that no Liverpool player wanted this title more than Mane, and while that may be unfair on others, the level of focus and quality on show in those early weeks suggested exactly that.
Every title win has a defining game and the trip to Aston Villa fell into that category. It will be looked back on as the key moment in the title race for years to come.
With Liverpool trailing heading into the dying minutes, and Man City on the cusp of narrowing the gap to four points, Mane came to the fore.
His perfect cross with his weaker left foot allowed Andy Robertson to equalise, before his header in the last few seconds sealed the most dramatic of victories.
It was a moment that acted as a huge momentum boost for the Reds and Mane then played a major role in his side’s 3-1 win against City the following weekend.
At that point, there wasn’t a more in-form player in the Premier League and Mane was the front-runner for the various end-of-season prizes.
Slight dip, big final push
December was a non-stop month for Liverpool, with league matches coming thick and fast, as well as Club World Cup duties to deal with.
While Mane’s level remained high, certainly by the standards of mere mortals, the winter was not his most productive spell of the campaign.
After finding the net in the 5-2 thrashing of Everton on December 4, Liverpool’s smiling assassin would only score twice more up until the middle of February.
Assists came infrequently, teeing up Firmino against Flamengo, but that late-summer and autumn version of Mane had faded somewhat.
It wasn’t long before his vast influence returned, however, and while Liverpool’s performances were disjointed, Mane bailed them out.
He scored the only goal away to Norwich, producing a breathtaking touch and finish, prior to bagging the winner in an equally unconvincing team display at home to West Ham.
During the post-lockdown fixtures, Mane would again be a standout performer and it was only right that he completed Liverpool’s scoring for the season.
His beautiful curled effort against Newcastle was trademark Mane and it left him with a tally of 22 goals and 12 assists in 2019/20.
In Trent Alexander-Arnold, Virgil van Dijk and Jordan Henderson, Mane has strong rivals in the Player of the Year stakes, but the Reds’ dazzling wide man was the most consistent, formidable presence in an all-time-great Liverpool season.
The future role
In terms of importance, Mane will continue to be almost unrivalled next season, perhaps along with Alisson and Van Dijk.
As mentioned, Salah and Firmino are more capable of off-days than the Senegalese, and he possesses both the former’s devastating end product and the latter’s work rate and selflessness.
Having initially been used on the right wing in his first season at Anfield, Mane has become an even greater footballer on the opposite flank, which is where he will surely continue to wreak havoc.
By the end of next season, he will have turned 29, and there will always be some lingering fears about him making one more big move elsewhere in his prime.
There is nowhere better to be playing than Liverpool currently, though, and the Reds and Mane will continue to be a match made in heaven in 2020/21.
A time will come when a long-term alternative is required – but for now, we should all cherish this magnificent player and character.
Best moment: The winner at Villa – the biggest moment in the entire Premier League title race.
Worst moment: It’s hard to think of a genuine negative, but he was one of many poor performers away to Watford.
Role next season: One of the first names on the team-sheet.