Football Features

Sadio Mane: How Liverpool forward is ‘devouring’ the goalscoring competition in 2019

By Muhammad Butt

Published: 9:50, 20 August 2019

Liverpool have started the season brightly, winning the UEFA Super Cup and cruising to the top of the Premier League.

The Reds obviously have many top players but one in particular has started the season in red hot form and looks like he could build on last season’s individual heroics to get significantly better for the third season in a row. That man is Sadio Mané.

The Senegalese striker capped an impressive 2017/18 by scoring his 20th goal of the season in the Champions League final. Liverpool lost that game, so Mané fired them back to the final in 2018/19.

He didn’t score the second time around but his season total of 26 was an improvement, he shared the Premier League golden boot and he became the highest scoring African in Champions League knockout rounds history.

So you’re thinking, “that’s pretty damn impressive.” And you’d be right. How does one improve on that? It’s hard to say, but rocking up into the first XI after about 10 days of training with your team-mates and scoring twice to deliver the Uefa Super Cup, then a few days later scoring an absolute banger to put your side 0-1 up away from home is a decent way to make a start.

Mané is a player who, when Liverpool signed him, found himself being questioned. Was he good enough? Consistent enough? Well, he has proven that he is undoubtedly good enough and that when you put good players and good coaching together, consistency follows.

Mané’s 2017 was good, his 2018 was great and his 2019 so far has been pretty damn fantastic. In terms of the Premier League, the Senegalese has more goals than any Liverpool player so far this year. His 15 is five more than Mohamed Salah and nine more than Roberto Firmino. If any one man sustained Liverpool’s impossible title challenge last season, it was Mané.

But Mané isn’t just scoring a lot, he’s scoring with freakish accuracy. Whilst Salah’s 10 goals come with a shot conversion rate of 17.54% and Firmino’s paltry six were scored at a 22.22% conversion rate; Mané’s 15 come from a whopping 34.88% shot conversion. He is astoundingly accurate and measured when he shoots.

And it’s not just goals either. Mané only has one assist in 2019, but conversely has created 28 chances. That’s the same as Andrew Robertson and just one fewer than Salah (with Trent Alexander-Arnold out ahead for Liverpool on 36). And when it comes to big chances created again it’s just Alexander-Arnold (10) and Robertson (8) that can top his five. In the end you have to conclude that the only reason Mané has just one Premier League assist in 2019 is because he’s creating chances for people that aren’t Mané.

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How does Mané do this? How does he score so often or find himself as the player making the decisive touch so often? Simple really: he moves off the ball. It’s the kind of thing coaches spend forever preaching about from a very young age; don’t all rush to the ball. Mané truly understands that ideal. When he does get the ball he often passes it straight on and doesn’t dwell on it.

Mané has attempted just 15 more dribbles than Firmino (55 to 40) and a massive 50 less than Salah’s colossal 105 attempts. Mané could try and match those Salah numbers, but that would throw off the balance of the Liverpool front three. Salah’s dribble-heavy, shot-heavy style of play draws markers and attention, allowing Mané to work more off the ball and thus often provide killer blows.

Here’s the thing, though. Mané isn’t just excelling amongst Liverpool players in 2019 but all Premier League players. His 15 goals tops every single player for every single club in 2019. Sergio Aguero is closest with 14, and Mané’s 34.88% shot conversion tops the Argentine’s impressive 31.82%. Yeah you read that right, Mané is more efficient a finisher (in 2019) than Sergio Aguero.

But let’s take it to the final level, if you will, and the ultimate example of how Mané has been the Premier League’s pre-eminent goalscoring force in 2019. Everyone knows goals are hard to score, but they’re easier to rack up if you take penalties. Not that spot-kicks are simple to smash home, but they are a relatively uncomplicated way to score and easier than normal shots.

So let’s take penalties out of the equation. Who is the leading scorer in the Premier League then? Why, it’s Mané with 15 goals! Yes that’s right, the Senegalese has performed his goalscoring feats without the aid of a single penalty kick. Looking at non-penalty goals in 2019, Mané’s closest competitor is Raheem Sterling who has 12 goals off of a 31.58% shot conversion rate.

Meanwhile, where are Salah and Aguero? Well without penalties, Salah has scored just nine goals in 2019 with a shot conversion of 16.07%.

Aguero fares a bit better. He has 11 goals at a conversion rate of 26.83% – but he is miles off Mané now. Everyone is. Mané is absolutely devouring the competition and ensuring Liverpool do the same.

If Jurgen Klopp’s supreme Senegalese continues to play with such verve, drive and execution then the idea that Liverpool could improve on 2018/19 and win the Premier League title isn’t so far-fetched at all. With sensational Sadio leading the way, anything seems possible.