It is always important to be honest when evaluating players. Even world-class superstars are not absolved from constructive criticism when the occasion calls for it. And in the 2020-2021 season, there’s been plenty of criticism directed towards Liverpool left winger Sadio Mane. Some of that criticism has come from the star man himself. Mane has called the current campaign the worst of his career, and it’s not hard to see why.
The talented 29-year-old’s form has taken a turn for the worse in 2021, as he’s netted just three goals since the turn of the calendar. Mane’s nine goals and five assists this season are not particularly terrible, but the lack of consistency is alarming, particularly recently. It’s hard to explain what’s gone wrong, but even Mane himself can tell that he’s not hitting his usual standard.
But we have to be careful when discussing his performances this season. It’s easy to exaggerate his struggles. And it’s all too easy to forget what Sadio Mane is capable of doing at his best. In this social media age, it’s so easy to get caught in a hivemind and spiral into extreme opinions about a struggling player, forgetting that they can quickly return to their best.
The 2020-2021 season has been difficult for so many teams and players. Kopites have to be more understanding than most fanbases, since they’ve seen the toll the grind of the season, particularly the Premier League season, has taken on Liverpool.
Not everything about Sadio Mane’s 2020-2021 performances with Liverpool have been bad
I’m sure part of this has affected Mane, even if he doesn’t realize it. Burnout is real, it affects footballers, and I would not be surprised if Mane is a little burned out.
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Even so, the underlying numbers aren’t as bad as I would have thought. For example, per WhoScored.com, Sadio Mane is averaging 2.5 dribbles completed per game, 2.2 fouls drawn per game, and 1.6 key passes per game. Those are very strong supporting statistics. Most importantly, they show us that Mane is still putting in the work to win fouls and create some magic for his team, even if the goals aren’t there and the magic isn’t necessarily coming off as frequently as before.
Mane has always been about more than goals, and he’s long been a streaky player in front of goal. Like his No. 9 Roberto Firmino, the Senegalese forward is about much, much more than the goals on the scoresheet.
So we need to keep that in mind when discussing Mane, particularly his future. It is not out of line to suggest that he should be sold, because he is nearing the end of his prime. While I would personally caution against selling a talented, hard-working player who is at his lowest transfer value, I can see the argument the other way.
What I don’t like seeing is unproductive negativity or microanalysis of Mane’s gestures to Jurgen Klopp after the Manchester United game. For all Mane has done for the club and with how honest he’s been about his struggles, the least we can do is give him the benefit of the doubt as a person. It is out of bounds to insinuate he is not trying for the club or has soured on the manager. And it is just as disgraceful to negate Mane’s contributions to Liverpool.
As fans, it is important to stick by players, especially star players who have earned trust on the backs of their great work. Mane is not at his best right now, but maybe that’s all the more reason to throw some additional support his way.