Sadio Mane is shooting, dribbling and creating as much as ever but the goals have gone… so, after he admitted taking tests to suss out his slump, are things as bad as he thinks? And how can he reignite his Liverpool career?
- Liverpool star Sadio Mane has labelled this season the worst of his entire career
- The goals have dried up and the Senegal star is now missing more opportunities
- Mane went as far as to conduct physical tests on himself to determine an issue
- Sportsmail has crunched the figures to show things are not as bad as they seem
Sadio Mane is a man with a lot on his mind right now.
Last season the Senegal ace was arguably Liverpool’s most important star as they surged to the league title after a painful 30-year wait.
Just 12 months prior to that, Mane had terrorised defences en route to the Champions League final, in which he won a decisive penalty after just a few minutes and helped his side take the crown of Europe.
They were halcyon days, and the forward was lavished in praise at every opportunity. Team-mates adored playing with him, while rivals feared him and had no issue with saying so.
Such was Mane’s rise, none other than Lionel Messi voted for him to win the Ballon d’Or.
Sadio Mane has admitted that he sees this season as the worst of his career
The Senegal star, like Liverpool’s team generally, has struggled to make things click this year
The humble star from Sedhiou, on the banks of the Casamance, could hardly believe his luck.
Except, really, it wasn’t luck at all. It was a combination of years of painstaking effort, battling against adversity and proving time and time again that football was a game he could confidently dominate.
Doubts very much lingered when Jurgen Klopp paid Southampton the then pricey sum of £30million for his services, but Mane went about his work in such prolific fashion that today he can be labelled, without hesitation, a Liverpool legend.
Life should be so very sweet right now for the 29-year-old… but it isn’t.
This season Mane toiled, struggled and spluttered as an injury-hit Liverpool side surrendered their league title in the most miserable of fashion. Mane has looked, on the face of things, a shadow of the player from 12 months ago, and has admitted as much himself.
This week the pacey forward revealed he has been thinking so deeply into his own demise that he undertook physical tests to determine if something has been going amiss with his body.
Now, despite Mane offering the verdict that this has been comfortably ‘the worst season of my career,’ Liverpool still have a job to do in the final weeks in order to pin down a top-four finish.
But, has this really been Mane’s worst season ever? What, if anything, do the figures tell us? Sportsmail took a closer look…
Taking the most glaringly obvious figures, the current campaign does not paint a pretty picture for Mane.
The forward has currently played 31 Premier League matches, compared to his 35 last season.
A total of nine goals so far pales in comparison to his haul of 18 last season. Sure, Mane could still hit the back of the net in each of Liverpool’s remaining four matches, though he is on course to fall well short of last season’s achievements.
One point which has been constantly noted by Liverpool fans and pundits alike is that Mane is still getting into key positions, in order to have an opportunity on goal or create an opening for his team-mates.
We can see this in his assists. Last season Mane registered seven in the league, whereas right now he has five.
Figures from last season and now show Mane is only tailing off in a few areas, whereas in many others he is bettering his efforts from the title-winning season. Courtesy of sofascore.com
The likelihood of Mane matching or surpassing his assists total from one season ago is high given the fixtures Liverpool have remaining; ties with Manchester United, West Brom, Burnley and Crystal Palace.
It’s a drought of goals which have killed the confidence of the Senegal star, and Mane is allowing it to play on his mind. The fact he is still crafting openings for his team-mates indicates everything is very much on track regarding how he puts himself about the field.
It’s very easy to view a poor season as a player simply going off the map completely. Offering very little and adding to their own downfall. But this isn’t the case, and Klopp has stuck by Mane just as much as, for example, Chelsea have stuck by Timo Werner.
The German star has not scored as many goals as predicted this season during his introduction to English football, but positionally the former Leipzig man has been fizzing at Stamford Bridge and causing untold problems for opponents.
Mane, likewise, has provided a foil. It is no coincidence that Mohamed Salah is in the running again for the Golden Boot, with Mane featuring alongside him for most of the season.
The terrifying speed of the Senegalese star, coupled with his remarkable physical attributes, often sees opposition teams committing two men to mark him; a full-back and a dropping wide, or central, midfielder.
Mane’s input has still enabled Liverpool’s front line to threaten and help Mo Salah score goals
The result? A swing of balance over to Mane’s side of the field, when in possession, creates a pocket of space in the middle for Liverpool’s auxiliary forward – often Roberto Firmino or Diogo Jota – who in turn have been able to play Salah in behind the last line of defence.
Mane’s drought has been painful, and Liverpool have felt the repercussions, but the forward line has still gleaned the benefits of his work.
Here’s the thing, when Mane revealed this week that he had been taking tests on areas of his body to detect whether something was amiss, it’s very believable.
The reason why? Mane’s figures actually show he’s doing a lot of what he was doing last season. Almost identically.
Goals are just not nestling for him, though. As a result, he’s desperately searching for answers to explain why this is happening.
Taking chance creation as a metric to observe here; Last season Mane amassed 59 chances in the Premier League, giving him an average of 1.9 creations per 90 minutes. Liverpool, as was well documented, reaped huge rewards from this.
Manager Jurgen Klopp remains steadfast with his backing of the Senegal star this season
Now however, during the ‘worst season’ of Mane’s career, figures show the 29-year-old to have created 52 chances so far in the 31 matches he has played. This averaging out at, you guessed it, 1.9 per 90 minutes played.
It doesn’t stop there. Last season, as per Opta, Mane finished the campaign with a ‘big chance total’ of 29, in which 11 were scored.
This ‘big chance’ metric looks at the clean-cut goalscoring opportunities where the expectation is fully in the favour of the attacker to put the ball in the back of the net. This season, Mane has had 24 of these and put away 8 – giving an exact same average for both seasons at 0.9 per 90.
It has become clear that the conversion aspect has been the bugbear for Mane, and even though statistically this is not any more alarming than a simple downturn in form, for a player who was a genuine Ballon d’Or contender it can come as a huge shock.
Mane’s 33.3% big chance conversion rate this season still has the prospect of increasing, with last season’s total resting at 37.9%. If anything, it shows the marginal gains which can be achieved once confidence is regularly flowing through a player.
Expected goals (xG) per 90 minutes stand as the one statistic which will plague Mane more than anything else right now.
It would be remiss to suggest the forward hasn’t been spending time with Liverpool’s renowned data specialists, poring over every detail to try and establish a pattern. One thing which will stand out, for sure, is the current xG deficit.
Mane’s xG per 90 last season stood at 0.45, whereas right now it is at 0.44. To take heart from this, the player himself can deduce that he is very much mirroring himself of 12 months ago, yet it is just at the final moments he is letting himself down.
Given the lack of goals actually scored this season, compared to last, it gives Mane an xG difference of -3.45. For a player of his standing, it is clear to see why this would be deeply alarming.
You have to feel for Mane. It’s little wonder he has been exploring every possible avenue to ascertain what the issue is.
Just like his physical health tests revealed, there isn’t an obvious issue. Things have not been going in the favour of the Liverpool star and it’s fair to say this has now become purely a psychological demon with which he must battle to overcome.
While the stats show that Mane is operating on a similar numerical level to last season (bar goals scored), they also reveal just how hard the forward is working to try and make amends.
The Senegal star is grinding around the clock in each of his Premier League matches in order to rediscover his old self.
With form now becoming a mental battle, Mane can now be seen to be overcompensating
It’s the all too familiar situation. It can be seen from the Premier League to the park fields on Sunday mornings – when a player of whatever standard feels they are not putting on their best performance, everything increases as the search for redemption begins.
More running, more tackling, more shooting. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. Here we see Mane has effectively been doing this for Liverpool, with his mind transfixed on the negative thoughts of not giving the best account of himself.
For instance, a year ago Mane made 77 shots in the league, with an average of 2.5 per 90. This season, with four games to play, he’s on 86 with an average of 3.1.
In terms of getting them on target, last season 36 of them found their way between the sticks, posting a 1.2 shots on target per 90 average. This season? 34 on target, again sitting at the 1.2 average.
Mane will likely exceed last season’s shot total before the campaign is over, in his desperate search to rediscover himself.
The trend is widespread. Mane is now taking more touches in the opposition boxes (217 last season, 236 so far) despite having played fewer matches.
Likewise with dribbling (last season 125 dribbles attempted with 69 completed – this season 150 attempted with 80 completed). The Senegal star refuses to shy away from his situation and clearly wants to be on the ball make things happen.
It has been the inability to control his own destiny which has got into the player’s head, it seems.
Mane is doing everything right and is still an elite level forward. Few other players around the world could post such figures, yet Mane’s shot conversion rate (23.4% last season, compared to 10.5% at present) leaves much to be desired.
Figures show that Mane only needs to rediscover his clincial edge to get back to his very best
Ultimately Liverpool’s star forward is missing his clinical edge. There isn’t a much more simple way of putting it.
It’s easy to overlook the fact that Mane a serious amount of game time built up in his legs.
Last season Mane played 47 matches in all competitions as Liverpool competed on multiple fronts across multiple continents.
A heavily reduced and socially-distanced pre-season followed, before players were rushed back in to crack on with a fresh Premier League campaign, without fans and in very unorthodox circumstances.
Liverpool’s injury woes, biting the side just before the festive period of 2020, served to not only unbalance the team structure but also place unnecessary amounts of pressure on the leading players.
During the summer break Mane needs to unwind and hit the re-set button in order to refresh
With the defence in tatters and a midfield shorn of its regular faces, emphasis has been placed on the forward line to outscore opponents and keep Liverpool on the front foot. Given Klopp’s entire system is one cohesive machine which relies on each of its parts in unison, this was always going to be a huge ask.
And so, what can be expected to remedy the situation for Mane?
It seems obvious, but a break away from football will certainly help. Liverpool have been building up to this point with rapid momentum for several years now.
After reaching the Champions League final with Real Madrid in 2018, the Reds missed out on the title the following season by a single point – while also once again reaching and winning the Champions League final – before then going on to lift the Premier League at the earliest stage in the league’s history less than one year later.
It has been a frantic few seasons, yet the stats Mane has recorded this campaign rather impressively do not indicate he is suffering from burnout – instead, just an element of mental fatigue.
Liverpool are highly expected to bring in attacking reinforcements in the summer, which could help Mane out in abundance.
The arrival of Diogo Jota added competition last summer, but injuries meant Mane has still been depended on more than ever before and the pressure has mounted
Sure, on the one hand his game-time could become limited due to the competition, but this will allow the 29-year-old to be taken out of the constantly searing limelight and work out how best to get back on track.
Next season, with the roaring voice of the Kop poised to return, belief will be allowed to run through the Liverpool ranks again. If this season has taught football fans anything about Mane, it is that he is a confidence player who grows from the support and acknowledgement of the supporters around him.
Mane, like his entire team, needs time away from football before hitting the re-start button.
Should he return to his regular head-space, Liverpool will once again have one of the most feared forwards on the planet at their disposal; the statistics show as much.
For Mane, it is now a case of getting back to terrifying opposition defences, and living in the head of his rivals rather than that of his own.
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