Sadio Mane: Liverpool's Talisman in the Title Run-In

Sadio Mane: Liverpool's Talisman in the Title Run-In

If Sadio Mane were to spend his free time reading about Liverpool, he would have every right to feel a little aggrieved about his lack of column inches.

The Reds’ No.10 still makes plenty of headlines, but in comparison to those around him, he is often given more of a supporting role.

Mo Salah earns endless acclaim for his sensational goalscoring feats, while Roberto Firmino’s effortless brilliance receives plenty of love.

The impact Alisson and Virgil van Dijk have made is forever discussed, full-back pair Trent Alexander-Arnold and Andy Robertson are loved and lauded in equal measure, and Fabinho’s growing influence is seeing him become the new darling of the Kop.

But Mane doesn’t quite feature so prominently in the thoughts of so many, despite still being highly-rated and adored at the same time.

As Liverpool reach the crunch point in their season, Mane is the one who is standing up and being counted more often than not, showcasing his steely determination and eye for scoring big goals.

The latest example of this was on show at Anfield on Wednesday night, as Jurgen Klopp’s men returned to their fluent best, dismantling Watford 5-0 and retaining their one-point lead over Man City.

It was a statement victory in many ways, at a time when rival supporters are ludicrously attempting to call Liverpool ‘bottlers’ and a slight dip in form was seen as the beginning of the end for their title hopes.

Leading from the front against a then-seventh-place Hornets outfit was Mane, tasked with occupying a rare central role in the absence of the injured Firmino. The Senegalese thrived down the middle, using his pace and movement to great effect and setting Liverpool on their way to a crucial victory.

If his bullet header that opened the scoring outlined Mane’s underrated quality in the air, his second was a moment of impudent genius. His first touch may have been as rusty as many of those on show at Old Trafford last weekend, but his second was masterful, lifting a back-heeled effort past Ben Foster and doubling the Reds’ lead.

That second goal saw Mane break his own goalscoring record for an individual campaign in the Premier League, taking him to 14 in total, almost without anybody realising.

Only Sergio Aguero (18), Salah (17), Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (16) and Harry Kane (15) have scored more this season, which shows just how devastating Mane’s end product remains. He delivers relentless numbers, with his Liverpool tally now at 48 goals in just 107 appearances.

This hasn’t been a consistently vintage season from him yet, especially in comparison to 2016/17, but his influence is shining through more by the game.

Big characters are required to win titles – something Man City have in abundance – which is something that has been used against Liverpool during Klopp’s time in charge, and before it.

That has certainly changed with the addition of individuals such as Alisson, Van Dijk and Fabinho, but it still feels like an area where City have the edge, with those final few weeks set to be an almighty test of both teams’ mettle.

While those tall, powerful aforementioned figures are the obvious leaders in this Reds squad, Mane is one of the most mentally resolute players at the club.

He has ice in his veins when the going gets tough, with his efforts in last season’s Champions League run the perfect proof of that. Mane scored in every round in the knockout stages, including a hat-trick away to Porto and a vital goal at Roma in the semi-finals.

He also netted in the defeat to Real Madrid in the final, standing tall on an evening when too many others wilted under the pressure in Kiev.

Salah might be the better player and the more ruthless goalscorer, Firmino may knit everything together and key men at the back will be priceless in the next 10 matches, but Mane feels like the man who will deliver in the biggest moments.

If there is a stoppage-time winner on the horizon or a crucial penalty won, Mane springs to mind when imagining the incidents panning out.

While not always the greatest finisher on the planet, if sent clean-through at a match-winning moment, he is the one least likely to fluff his lines.

Mane’s impact at Liverpool is now arguably being underrated, having almost felt like a one-man team during his first year at the club.

His exit to the Africa Cup of Nations midway through that 2016/17 season was fatal and his stock was never higher than at that point.

It is wrong to say that he has not been praised many times since – he, Salah and Firmino’s brilliance as a front-three has made waves across Europe – but there is still a lingering feeling that his input is underappreciated.

He has bagged Liverpool’s first goal in the last four games in which they have scored – Leicester, West Ham, Bournemouth and Watford – proving his ability to deliver in key moments.

These next two months can make any of these players instant legends if they produce influential displays that seal the title for the Reds.

Don’t bet against Mane coming to the fore more than anyone if we are all celebrating one of the club’s greatest ever achievements in May.