What does Sadio Mane’s exit mean for Liverpool?

Sadio Mane. PHOTO/AFP

What you need to know:

  • Mane was the German’s first major signing at Liverpool, taking what has become a well-worn path from Southampton to Merseyside for £34m in 2016.

It is a sign of a very good player when even the euphoria of signing one of world football’s most exciting attacking talents cannot entirely compensate for his departure.

This is the place where Liverpool find themselves – delighted at the record arrival of Darwin Nunez, but saddened at end of Sadio Mane’s stellar six years at Anfield.

Mane’s move to Bayern Munich leaves one of the Premier League’s greatest forward lines in history shorn of a key component – one who has scored 120 goals in 269 games to help Liverpool win every major trophy available. BBC Sport looks at the impact the Senegal striker had at Liverpool and what their remodelled forward line needs to thrive without him.

‘He has been unbelievable’

As the season wore on with plenty of talk but no confirmation of a contract extension for Mane, Mohamed Salah or Roberto Firmino beyond 2023, the likelihood grew of one or more of them departing.
Before the Champions League final with Real Madrid, Salah pledged he would be at the club next season, but Mane was coy on his future. His departure acts as something of a bookend to the first phase of Jurgen Klopp’s Anfield tenure, during which the club have risen to the top of the globe.

Mane was the German’s first major signing at Liverpool, taking what has become a well-worn path from Southampton to Merseyside for £34m in 2016.

His 13 goals in his first season helped Liverpool return to the Champions League after a couple of seasons out, paving the way for the remarkable run of success that followed. Within two years they were champions of Europe and 12 months later won the Premier League for the first time in 30 years.

They have also been Champions League runners-up twice and finished second in the Premier League twice, including the 2021-22 season in which they won the FA and League Cup.

The summer after Mane’s arrival, Salah signed and, along with Firmino, formed one of the finest forward lines in English football history. It produced 338 goals in five seasons in all competitions.

In that time, Mane has shown a positional versatility few possess, playing on the right in his first season, then switching to a predominantly left-sided role to accommodate Salah and, more recently, excelling centrally.

With this trio moving into or near to their 30s, the evolution of Liverpool’s attacking stable was already well under way before Mane’s departure, with the signing and integration of Diogo Jota and Luis Diaz and the recent acquisition of exciting young talent Fabio Carvalho from Fulham.

The signing of Nunez before the summer transfer window opened was another proactive move from Liverpool.

Mane, though, has shown no signs of fading. Far from it. His form in the second half of 2021-22 was exceptional, contributing as much as anyone to the club fighting on four fronts until the very end.

He scored home and away against Villarreal in the Champions League semi-finals. It was his goal that earned Liverpool a Premier League point at Man City in April and his superb header that kept their title bid alive at Aston Villa the following month.

In total he netted 13 times in 27 games – operating largely as a number nine – after helping Senegal win the Africa Cup of Nations in February. 

Darwin’s theory of evolution

An instinctive eye for goal is a given in a potential Mane successor, with the forward averaging 20 goals a season in all competitions at Liverpool, many of them well-taken, predatory first-time finishes with feet or head.

Mane has great awareness and timing to both find space and capitalise upon it. And his dribbling and passing ability, making him as difficult a foe outside the box as in it.

Strength, speed and acceleration are huge assets of his, not only in helping his attacking output, but for what he brings to a team who like to press fiercely from the front.

Nunez ticks a slightly different box – as a predominantly central striker with an ability to roam to good effect and with an elite eye for goal. Last season the 22-year-old scored 34 goals in 41 games for Benfica.

Klopp is so enthused, telling the Liverpool website: “He has all the pieces we look for. He can set a tempo, brings energy, can threaten space from central and wide areas.”

In their clever forward planning and spending big on Nunez, Liverpool have sought to minimise the transition period to what could become another feared front three.

Mane and Liverpool 

2016...Joins Liverpool

Liverpool paid $35m for Mane on June 28, 2016. The Senegalese became the most expensive African footballer in history.

4-3...Stunning debut

Mané made a sensational start to his Reds career, scoring a stunning solo goal on his debut, a 4-3 win at Arsenal.

6...Trophies won

Although Mane was unable to finish his Liverpool career on the ultimate high by beating Real Madrid in the Champions League final last season, he has lifted six trophies – every major trophy available to be won at club level.

Season by matches, goals and assists
2016/17    29    13    7
2017/18    44    20    9
2018/19    50    26    2
2019/20    47    22    10
2020/21    48    16    8
2021/22    59    23    2
Total    269    120    38
 

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