The arrival of Luis Diaz at Liverpool is an exciting one, adding further quality to the attack – but also putting a question mark over the future of one of those who has lit up Anfield for the last six seasons.
A player seemingly on an upwards trajectory who fits the criteria of recent arrivals, Diaz would appear to be tailormade to be a sure-fire hit at Anfield.
However, the more pragmatic among us may consider the impact elsewhere within the squad.
Having cried out for additional strength in depth within the Reds’ ranks, particularly in the attacking department, there almost has to be a fall guy further down the line.
In this instance, that person could well be Sadio Mane.
For most fans, there is little argument that Mane’s all-round performances have dipped over the last 18 months – and while the numbers may tell a different story, there has certainly been a dropoff in clinical output.
This season’s return of 10 goals and one assist in 26 games is far from poor, but such basic stats can be misleading.
For comparison, Diaz has 16 goals and six assists in 28 outings, albeit mostly at a lesser-rated Primeira Liga standard – again, such basic stats can’t tell the story.
In the below graphic supplied by WhoScored, it is evident that Diaz is outperforming Mane in a variety of key areas over the past two seasons:
While the sight of a direct positional rival may reignite Mane’s fire, it hasn’t been his will to succeed and work ethic that have diminished.
Instead, it has seemed a one-time ruthless ability to make the correct decision has deserted the No. 10 – leading to an apparent lack of confidence in front of goal.
The remainder of this season
Jurgen Klopp is almost as famous for giving players time to adapt as he is offering out hugs on the touchline.
We’ve witnessed on numerous occasions how the manager takes time to integrate new faces fully, before unleashing what is seemingly a ready-made superstar into our psyche.
This trait may well see Mane continue to occupy the starting slot for the short term, perhaps rotated with the Colombian newcomer as Diaz acclimatises himself to a new country and Klopp’s style.
That in itself is a frightening proposition as Liverpool could feasibly be fighting on four trophy fronts with two fresh and hungry left-wingers desperate to prove a point for different reasons.
A new position?
There are alternative options for Mane and Liverpool, though.
When signed on one of Liverpool’s many recruitment drives to the south coast, the Senegalese arrived predominantly as a right-winger and it was only the blockbuster capture of Mohamed Salah in 2017 that prompted the positional switch.
In fact, Mane scored 13 times and provided six assists in 2016/17 from a right-hand side that is now synonymous with Salah.
However, with the Egyptian King firmly in situ and objectively the best player in the world right now, a return to the role is somewhat off the cards.
Despite often occupying a more central role for Senegal, including at the ongoing Africa Cup of Nations, it’s not an option Klopp has felt obliged to call upon too often.
Having flirted with the idea of switching to a 4-2-3-1 previously, it’s almost impossible to imagine that Klopp would abandon a 4-3-3 and make the permanent formational alteration in order to fit an extra attacker into the side.
A new dawn?
Unfortunately, one reality we may all have to come to terms with is that the infamous front three of Premier League, Champions League, Super Cup and Club World Cup glory could be about to lose its first key component.
In the same boat as Salah and Roberto Firmino, Mane is out of contract at the end of next season and there would appear to be far less clamour for a new deal compared to his wing partner.
While much of Liverpool’s recent business can be labelled as adept, astute and in certain quarters perhaps rather frugal, a majority of the activity has been within the ‘sell to buy’ mantra.
If that was to remain the case and Salah was to sign a new deal as hoped and expected, Mane – as well as Firmino – could see their chances of an extension on Merseyside fall by the wayside.
Having played such an integral part in what has been a glorious period in a rich Liverpool history, it seems unlikely Mane would accept a mere squad role in the medium term.
Should he do just that, offering new terms at either a reduced or similar salary would be nigh on a no-brainer for the club to extend beyond 2023.
But in the likely event Mane wishes to remain an integral member of a top-level side, the alternatives could be far less attractive propositions to Liverpool supporters.
This leaves Mane in a rather unfamiliar position of being ostracised and with little chance of ousting Diogo Jota, Firmino, Salah from their favoured roles.
Albeit the prospect of having five top-quality attackers battling for three spaces is an appealing one, Klopp is almost renowned for adopting a settled side and in the long haul, it’s unlikely to be workable for the Reds.
So what can we expect?
In the final 18 months of his contract at Anfield and about to turn age 30, this summer represents the final chance for the club to make big money on Mane.
It would seem that a sale could be the most likely and most practical outcome.
Although it will be a bitter pill to swallow and it may even hurt for a while, perhaps we should all enjoy every glorious moment we have left with Sadio Mane the Liverpool player.
Of course, there is also the possibility that Mane, Diaz, Salah, Firmino and Jota can rest, rotate and combine in perfect harmony for years to come…