Some players thrive under the spotlight more than others – Liverpool will hope Sadio Mane proves his mettle against Manchester City, when the focus will be on him for more than one reason.
Mane has established himself as one of the Premier League’s great entertainers and arguably Liverpool’s biggest attacking threat, yet he has also earned himself a reputation as a purveyor of the dark arts – or “diving”, as Pep Guardiola put it on Saturday.
Earlier that day, Mane had gone down very easily in the penalty area during Liverpool’s 2-1 win at Aston Villa. Under pressure from Frederic Guilbert, the forward theatrically went to ground and was swiftly shown a yellow card for simulation by referee Jon Moss.
Jurgen Klopp and Mane have had their say since and come to the conclusion that the Senegal forward is not a “diver” – and even Guardiola appeared to backtrack – yet this weekend he will come under intense scrutiny over his conduct, performance and attitude, particularly given that this was by no means the first time the former Southampton star courted flak for diving.
Considering Mane’s importance to Liverpool, Klopp will be desperate for him to harness that attention to the Reds’ benefit on the big stage, something Sergio Aguero has become remarkably adept at.
35 – Sadio Mane scored the 35th 90th-minute winning goal by Liverpool in the Premier League, 10 more than any other side in the competition’s history; five of those have come since the start of last season, more than any other team. Clutch. pic.twitter.com/xQ9C5H6izh
— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) November 2, 2019
Aguero the benchmark
Since joining City from Atletico Madrid in 2011, Aguero’s productivity in games against the so-called “big six” has been truly remarkable.
In 67 matches, Aguero has scored 44 goals from 241 shots with a conversion rate of 18.3 per cent. Against any standard of opposition that would be considered outstanding – to boast such a record against the Premier League’s best is astonishing.
But he is yet to score in seven trips to Anfield, making it his least favourite away ground.
Jamie Vardy is the closest to Aguero in terms of goals, with 31 in 59 matches. While that may not be as impressive, the fact that haul comes from 109 shots – giving him a startling 28.4 per cent conversion rate – suggests he relishes such occasions like few others.
Mane’s record of 18 goals in 53 matches against the top sides may pale in comparison, but it remains impressive and is bettered by only six players.
10 – Jamie Vardy is the first player to reach 10 Premier League goals this season – this is the second time he’s been the first player to reach 10 goals in a season, along with 2015/16, when Leicester went on to win the division. Menacing. pic.twitter.com/Ql3PPaf1Nq
— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) November 3, 2019
Sadio the main Mane at Anfield
There is little doubt Mane has become the most influential attacker at Liverpool this season, with 12 goal involvements (nine goals, three assists). Mohamed Salah has 10 split equally between goals and assists, while Roberto Firmino is on nine (five goals, four assists).
Mane’s nine goals across all competitions may not be groundbreaking, but it is only one shy of Raheem Sterling and two fewer than Aguero.
He has proven to be a vital creator for the Reds as well, laying on 29 chances for team-mates, six more than Firmino and eight better than Salah.
It is also worth pointing out Mane’s 20.9 per cent conversion rate, as that too is significantly better than those posted by Salah (7.9 per cent) and Firmino (13.2 per cent).
What’s your favourite late goal from our past five games?
— Liverpool FC (@LFC) November 5, 2019
Mane out to make a splash
Mane’s reply to Guardiola after Liverpool’s Champions League win over Genk suggested he is handling the situation rather comfortably.
Not only did he admit he would do what he did against Villa – what he considered to not be a dive – again, he insisted Guardiola’s comments won’t change him.
Given he has established himself as Liverpool’s chief attacking threat, that’ll be music to the ears of Klopp as he prepares his side to potentially go nine points clear at the Premier League summit.
Klopp will hope Mane can make a splash of the right kind against the champions at Anfield.
— Liverpool FC (@LFC) November 7, 2019