Paul Spillane explains why it’s inadvisable to rush Sadio Mané back into action after a gruelling experience with Senegal at the AFCON.
There is no other way of putting it, January was a month to forget for Liverpool Football Club. Nine games played in all competitions and our only win was a measly 1-0 victory over Plymouth.
Some fans have even questioned the manager after such a dismal display of results, which I cannot understand. Jürgen Klopp has barely scratched the surface with what he can do for our club and we are lucky to have him at the helm. Some fans would be wise to remember that.
We haven’t particularly been rolled over by teams, but the running theme has been our complete lack of ability to break the opposition down. The lethargic nature of our build-up play and the sheer lack of dynamism going forward has meant that we have scored only eight goals in these games. A stark contrast to our performances earlier on in the season.
Much of our fanbase have been quick to attribute this dip in form to Mané’s departure to the African Cup of Nations, however, despite the edge Mané gives us, we are not a one-man team, and should have had more than enough to overcome the likes of Southampton, Swansea, and Wolves at Anfield. Our build-up play has been unnaturally slow, and I seem to have lost count with the number of times the ball was passed sideways in these games.
One player who has been particularly poor has been Emre Can. The powerhouse German has been duly criticised for his performances in these games, being far too pedestrian on the ball and not creating enough chances going forward. It was Can who fought for that central-midfield berth and questions have started to spread over whether he is ideally suited for this role.
Another factor contributing to our poor run of form is the altering of Lallana’s starting position. With Mane, away, Lallana was used as a wide man and whilst still trying to implore his energetic presence onto the field, his influence was not as effective as it might have been if he was playing more centrally.
From January, therefore one thing is clear. We have been severely lacking a player with a burst of pace who can open up the game in a flash. Someone who, when given the ball, doesn’t offload it as quickly as he receives it, but powers forward and takes on the opposition’s defence. It is quite obvious that Mané is this player. With nine goals and four assists to his name so far this season, his influence on the game was something we have sorely been missing.
I wrote an article a while back on Sheyi Ojo and whether he could be the man to help fill the void with Mané off on AFCON duties. My initial thought was that Ojo would still be recovering from a lengthy injury lay-off thus it would come too soon to call upon him. To my surprise, the young winger has made 2 appearances both coming in the FA Cup. It was clear however that he was severely lacking match sharpness and failed to make any real impact in both of these games. The reality was that Ojo offered pace and the ability to beat a man, but it was just unfortunate that he was not 100% fit whilst Mane had been away.
Mané ’s return, therefore, could not come soon enough.
With Senegal’s agonising penalty loss to Cameroon; where Mané himself missed the decisive penalty, it was finally time for our man to come back to Anfield. Although Mané s return against Chelsea was brief, we still all saw the different edge he gave us in attack. His natural pace allowed him to run into areas out wide, which created space for the likes of Firmino and Lallana to penetrate forward.
Despite this, however, we must treat Mané ’s return with caution.
He has been playing on another Continent for the last month thus will need the correct time to readjust and acclimatise back to the demands of the Premier League. Truth is that only Klopp and his team will be fully aware of the physical and mental state Mané is in, thus it will be up to them to determine when we will get to see our dynamite winger fully return to the fold. In my opinion, Mané should start from the bench in the next couple of games, and be used to give new dynamism and of pace to the attack midway through the second half.
I sympathise with fans who want him back in the first team as soon as possible but with the amount of football he has played, coupled with just how important he is to us, it is understandable why we must tread carefully in reintegrating Mané back into the side.
Next up is an away trip to Hull on Saturday. Despite picking up a very good point at Old Trafford last night, this remains a game in which we should be able to get something out of without the need to rely too heavily on the ability of our leading goalscorer.
Follow Paul on on Twitter to discuss the issue of rushing Mané back in to action.