Caislin Boyle reviews Sadio Mané’s 2017/18 season detailing the lows of his Premier League season and the highs of his Champions League campaign.
It’s hard to consider that Liverpool’s best player in the Champions League final had anything but a stellar season, but that’s the reality facing Sadio Mané as I review his season. After a phenomenal first season at Anfield, the Senegalese forward faced challenges in his second term at Liverpool.
Sadio’s season can be defined by three things; the sending off at Manchester City, a patch of indifferent form and flourishing in the Champions League.
For Mané, the domestic season could not have started better – he scored in the first three games of the season against Watford, Crystal Palace (the winner) and Arsenal respectively. He looked to be part of a front three (front four with the returning Philippe Coutinho), that were capable of tearing teams apart.
Then came the sending off against Manchester City in September, which affected Mané mentally in subsequent weeks despite nobody believing he intended to hurt Ederson. He was banned for three games, but the punishment felt longer inasmuch as Sadio wasn’t quite the same upon his return.
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It was the 29th of November before Mané scored again in the league (against Stoke), with both the Ederson incident and a hamstring injury sustained on international duty stifling his domestic form.
Mané’s game time was being managed during this period, where he was a substitute against Chelsea and rested entirely against Brighton. This game-management was influenced by injury fears, but also by lingering worries as to Mané’s form.
These worries were founded upon poor decision making, which came to the fore in the Merseyside derby. Mané’s decision to take on an unlikely shot (when better options were available), was roundly criticised. This was the second incident that affected Mané mentally.
Thereafter, Mané struggled against West Brom and was rested entirely for games against Bournemouth and Swansea. This was partly down to Klopp learning his lessons in terms of rotation, but also to shield Mané from the criticism that was coming his way.
Sadio’s struggles were nowhere approaching the level that some hyperbolic pundits would have you believe, but no doubt Mané was encountering the stickiest patch of his Liverpool career.
However, Sadio showed signs of life with a crucial opener against Burnley in a seemingly deadlocked game. Mané followed this up with an incredible strike in the epic game against Manchester City, assuring everyone that he was back.
The departure of Coutinho allowed Mané to rove further infield when he was on the pitch, with the increased space allowing him the freedom he so clearly requires. Mané continued a consistent run of goal-scoring form until the end of the season, with further strikes against West Ham, Newcastle, Crystal Palace and Bournemouth respectively.
He ended the season with 10 goals and 7 assists, scoring only three goals fewer than his first season in which he was considered scintillating. He also registered two more assists than in the 2016/2017 season.
Mané’s form in the Champions League was largely unaffected by any talk of indifferent domestic form and this is where he truly thrived this season. He scored the same number of goals as in the Premier League in less than half the number of appearances (11 vs 28).
He was instrumental in Liverpool’s run to the final, although it took him a while to get going. It was late November before he would strike in the Champions League, scoring in the 3-3 draw away to Sevilla. That seemed to ignite his hunger, and a brace followed in the mauling of Spartak Moscow to finish the group stages.
Although Sadio was consistent throughout the entire Champions League run, he catapulted himself to the next level when the knock out stages arrived. He played like a man possessed against Porto, bagging himself a hattrick in the process. He put the icing on the cake in the 3-0 defeat of Manchester City.
He scored both home and away against Roma. He looked like a man who was free of whatever mental anguish had plagued him earlier in the season, and Liverpool reaped the benefits.
And this is where it comes full circle – Sadio Mané was the best Liverpool player in a Champions League final. He scored, he valiantly tried to create and he epitomised the fearlessness that defines a Klopp side.
It wasn’t to be but Mané will look to himself and see someone capable of being a leader in the most difficult of circumstances. The next step will be to replicate that quality across a campaign with onerous domestic and European requirements.
If a player is assessed by how he responds to adversity, Mané has had another phenomenal season. There have been setbacks and difficulties, but there has also been an emphatic response by the number 19. A decent Premier League season has been elevated by a sensational European one, and Mané will be hoping both can be sensational next year.