Liverpool’s Premier League titles are all but over – I think even the most optimistic Reds supporter has accepted that by now.
Last weekend’s sobering 4-1 loss at the hands of Man City was the moment it became clear that the title would not be heading to Anfield in May, much like last season’s win against Pep Guardiola’s side signalled the opposite.
Liverpool were outplayed, outrun and out-thought by an exceptional outfit in their own right, with injuries catching up with the champions and the team looking more jaded and lost than ever by the final whistle.
This has been a phenomenal three years for Jurgen Klopp’s men, who at this stage in 2018 were purring in attack, and with the addition of Virgil van Dijk, became a force in defence, too.
In the 36 months that have followed, Liverpool have reached two Champions League finals, winning one, as well as clinching Premier League glory and accumulating 97 points the year before it.
On top of that, Club World Cup and UEFA Super Cup wins have also been sealed – the latter doesn’t really count, let’s be honest – in one of the most glorious periods in the club’s history.
This team still has a huge amount to offer and it will return to the summit of the English game again, but for now, legs have gone, confidence is shot and key players’ absences are hurting Liverpool badly.
When assessing this season as a whole, there are several players who have clearly toiled, with Trent Alexander-Arnold and Roberto Firmino among the biggest culprits.
If there is one individual whose struggles have gone under the radar, though, it’s Sadio Mane.
The Senegalese was unrivalled in 2019/20, proving to be the man who inspired the Reds to so many wins and arguably standing tall above any other player in the Premier League.
The end-of-season awards may not have gone to him and he wasn’t even Liverpool’s top goalscorer, but he was the main man.
Mane started this campaign in a similarly rich vein of form, scoring twice at Chelsea early on and also bagging goals against Arsenal and Everton.
Four goals in the opening five league games were a promising sign and some of his all-round play was devastating, as he twisted and turned opponents into submission.
Since he opened the scoring the Goodison Park, however, Mane has netted just three times in the league, with that game now almost four months ago. Three league goals since Van Dijk got injured. Madness.
In total, Mane’s tally for the season in all competitions is just 10, including two that came against an Aston Villa youth team in the FA Cup. At this stage last year, he had scored 15.
Similarly, the 28-year-old had registered nine assists by Boxing Day in 2019, compared to just four at this point, further highlighting his lack of productivity.
With each passing week, the more ineffective Mane seems to become, culminating in the City game, when he looked completely devoid of belief and energy.
While Firmino has understandably come in for more criticism than most, given the general lifelessness of his performances on and off the ball, Mane’s woes are starting to become troublesome in their own right.
It shouldn’t be ignored that Firmino only has one goal fewer and the same number of assists this season.
It would be unfair to claim that Mane is offering nothing – he is fighting for every ball and looking to make things happen – but his usual world-class level out on the left flank has deserted him, as has his link-up play with the equally fatigued Andy Robertson.
He has experienced dips in the past, but this is the most ineffectual he has been for some time, with his finishing erratic, his use of the ball wasteful and his overall influence nowhere to be seen.
Like so many of his teammates, he needs to recharge his batteries and be part of a side enjoying their football again, then he will return to the stunning footballer we have grown to adore since 2016.
There is no concern about Mane peaking as a player, as is arguably the case with Firmino, but if Liverpool are to seal a place in the top four and go on a long Champions League run, we need to see something close to the 2019/20 version of the Reds’ legendary No.10 again.