Liverpool were strolling to a comfortable win at St Mary’s. A goal apiece for Philippe Coutinho and Daniel Sturridge had given Jürgen Klopp’s side a two-goal buffer over Southampton at half-time; three much-needed points, in the pursuit of a top four finish, was seemingly all but in the bag. After all, not since 1964 had the Reds lost in the league after taking such a lead in with them at the interval.
However, Sadio Mané was introduced after the break and that record was torn to pieces as the Senegalese star sparked a remarkable 3-2 comeback victory. It was yet another example, showcased throughout his career, of his considerable knack for grasping the momentum and using it to his, and his side’s, advantage.
Entering into the fixture, Mané had failed to score for over four months. A previously promising-looking campaign had been tarnished by exterior criticisms and numerous alleged fallings out with his manager Ronald Koeman. When he was introduced after half-time, though, it didn’t take him long to get involved in the action.
Earlier in the game, the Saints had been denied a clear-cut penalty after Dejan Lovren had fouled Shane Long. Lovren’s defensive partner, Martin Škrtel, was not to be so lucky. Referee Roger East adjudged the substitute to have fouled Graziano Pellè in the 50th minute and up stepped Mané to the penalty spot. Simon Mignolet guessed correctly and with a strong right hand palmed the shot away.
Unfazed, Mané fired his team back into the game shortly afterwards when Pellè had caught Jon Flanagan, Liverpool’s captain on the day, in possession and fed him the ball on the edge of the box. The forward did the rest. Then, 20 minutes later, Pellè turned from provider to scorer for his team’s equaliser, before, in the very next attack, Mané took advantage of yet another defensive mistake to smash in his second of the game and spark wild scenes of celebration. There had been just two minutes and 24 seconds between the Saints’ second and third goals.
‘Reds grab defeat from the jaws of victory’, the Liverpool Echo reported in the aftermath. Yet while full of praise for Mané, they slightly glossed over just how significant his introduction into the game had been. The Merseyside outfit had certainly self-destructed but it was Mané who had bullied and harassed them into doing so in the first place. He had dragged his side from no-hopers to victors in the space of 45 minutes, while changing their entire attacking set-up in the process. The Saints had been unable to get into Liverpool’s box in the first half, but Mané’s pace and movement in behind immediately changed all of that.
In Southampton’s next five games, he registered five goals, his best match in this run undoubtedly coming against Manchester City where he notched a hat-trick. There are players who are notoriously streaky – inherited with the innate ability to go on extended runs of goal scoring form. Throughout his whole career, Wayne Rooney has been pretty much known for this. Mané seems to have the ability to do it within single matches; one goal after another in quick succession.
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His hat-trick against City was the fifth of his relatively short career, but it certainly wasn’t his most impressive. That is reserved for his remarkable one against Aston Villa in a 6-1 rout. His three goals were plundered in just two minutes and 56 seconds, breaking the long-standing Premier League record held by Robbie Fowler, which dated all the way back to 1994.
After two years at Southampton, Mané got his move to Fowler’s old club, Liverpool, in 2016. He had been admired by Klopp for a number of years, according to the German himself, as far back as at the 2012 London Olympics. However, his arrival on Merseyside was met with somewhat restrained excitement.
He had become the most expensive African player in history with the transfer but up until that point had failed to really perform consistently. There were the remarkable high points where he almost won games single-handed for his team, although there were also the long, barren spells which saw him fade into the peripheries.
Liverpool dauntingly started the 2016-17 season away at Arsenal. At the Emirates, they blew the Gunners away with a second half 18-minute attacking masterclass. Right at the forefront of this was Mané. Already reeling after Coutinho had pulled off a stunning first half free-kick, then finished a 19-pass move, Mané picked up the ball on the touchline before burning past two defenders and slotting a magnificent left-footed strike into the top corner, his solo goal concluding a huge swing in momentum that the Reds had managed to create after previously being a goal down.
Mané has a long and impressive history of capitalising on his side’s gaining the upper hand. Playing for Southampton in 2015 against MK Dons, he followed Jay Rodriguez’s fifth-minute penalty with the first of a double four minutes later. In the following match against Swansea City, Mané sealed the 3-1 victory after scoring the third seven minutes after the Saints’ second had gone in.
Then in April, the Senegalese capped off a 4-2 win over Aston Villa with a late stoppage time goal. The next game was where he scored his hat-trick against City. His first came three minutes after Long’s opener, while his second and third were dispatched in the space of 10 second-half minutes.
For Liverpool, Mané has continued with his tendency to score after or before another goal rather quickly. Against Hull City in September, Mané scored the side’s third six minutes after James Milner had doubled their lead from the spot. In the Reds’ 6-1 battering of Watford, he got on the scoresheet twice, with his second coming three minutes after Roberto Firmino had pushed the score out to 4-0. Meanwhile, against Bournemouth, Mané put Liverpool ahead as the side scored twice in two minutes.
Mané’s career really started to take off back in 2012 when he moved from French side FC Metz to Red Bull Salzburg. It was here that the attacker first showcased his ability to score in small pockets of time when his side had taken the ascendency. Against Sturm Graz, RB’s Valon Berisha had scored an equaliser, before Mané, hitting the first of a double which would eventually win the game, scored two minutes later on the stroke of half-time. It would be the first of many occasions during his two-year spell at the Red Bull Arena where he would be involved in rapid-fire scoring sequences.
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Against Unterhaching a few months later, his 80th-minute goal gave his side a slender lead, before two minutes later his Brazilian team-mate, Alan, made the three points safe. In April 2013, SV Mattersburg welcomed Mané to the tiny Pappel Stadion. He opened his side’s scoring as they won 2-1 late on, his goal sparking a dramatic eight-minute spell where they came from behind to win the match.
However, Red Bull Salzburg would ultimately finish second in the table during Mané’s first year at the club. The blueprint had been crafted, though, with the side blasting in 91 goals across the campaign. This made them easily the most feared and potent attacking unit in the league. The next season, Mané’s final in Austria, they became champions.
In their triumphant year, Mané continued with his goalscoring habits that had now become refined. In an 8-0 trouncing of Grödig, he scored the second of his side’s three goals that were notched in a frantic nine minutes, while against Ajax in the Europa League round of 32, Mané scored the second of three goals which rocked the Dutch club in a devastating 20 minute first-half spell. Against old foes Sturm Graz, he scored five minutes after André Ramalho had given RB the lead to all but seal the league title.
An aspect of Mané’s game is his ability to score in just about any circumstance. He is underrated in the air and can finish with either foot. Indeed, of his 16 goals scored during 2016, six were with his left foot while eight were with his right. It is this skill to pounce on any chance, along with his electric pace, which makes him so deadly and able to turn the tide in his side’s favour.
“Every team in the world would miss Mane,” Klopp said after he had watched his star signing rip Tottenham Hotspur apart and hand Liverpool their first win of 2017.
At Anfield on that cold February night, Mané terrorised Spurs’ left-back Ben Davies on his way to notching a vital double. His penetrative run through the middle of the pitch evaded Mauricio Pochettino’s high defensive line for his first, while his constant pressuring of the opposition defenders instigated his second. After he had nicked the ball off a cumbersome Eric Dier, there looked to be only one outcome likely.
It took Mané just over two minutes to claim his match-winning double against Spurs. Evidently, a majority of his goals have come in quick succession and in bursts when his side have the ascendancy. He capitalises on momentum swings within games unlike any other player currently in the league, and is even able to instigate them himself.
Consequently, this makes Sadio Mané one of the greatest exponents of a momentum player in world football today. The old adage of a team being most vulnerable in the minutes right after they have scored usually rings true; however, with Mané in the side, it turns out the opposite is actually the case.
By Mark Molyneux