It’s a sign of a very good player when even the euphoria of signing one of world football’s most exciting attacking talents can’t quite make up for his departure.
This is the place where Liverpool are, delighted with the record. arrival of Darwin Núñez, but saddened at the end of Sadio Mane’s stellar six years at Anfield.
Mane’s move to Bayern Munich leaves one of the best forward lines in Premier League history without a key component – one who has scored 120 goals in 269 games to help Liverpool win every major trophy available.
BBC Sport looks at the impact the Senegalese striker had on Liverpool and what their reshaped striker needs to thrive without him.
‘He’s been amazing’
As the season progressed with much talk but no confirmation of a contract extension for Mane, Mohamed Salah or Roberto Firmino beyond 2023, the likelihood of one or more of them leaving increased.
Before the Champions League final with Real Madrid, salah promised he would be at the club next season, but Mane was more coy about his future and has now forced Liverpool’s hand.
His departure acts as something of a bookend for the first phase of Jurgen Klopp’s tenure as manager, during which the club has risen to the top of the global game.
Mane was the German’s first big signing at Liverpool, taking what has become a well-trodden path from Southampton to Merseyside for £34m in 2016.
His 13 goals in his first season helped Liverpool return to the Champions League after a couple of seasons away, paving the way for the remarkable run of success that followed.
Within two years they were European champions and 12 months later they won the Premier League for the first time in 30 years.
They have also been Champions League runners-up twice and finished second in the Premier League twice, including the 2021-22 season in which they won the FA and League Cup.
The summer after Mane’s arrival, Salah signed and, along with Firmino, formed one of the best strikers in the history of English football. He produced 338 goals in five seasons in all competitions.
In that time, Mane has shown a positional versatility few possess, playing on the right in his first season, then shifting to a predominantly left-wing role to accommodate Salah and, more recently, excelling in center.
With this trio in or near 30, the evolution of Liverpool’s attacking stable was already underway before Mane’s departure, with the signing and integration of Diogo Jota and Luis Diaz and the recent acquisition of exciting young talent. Fabio Carvalho of Fulham.
The signing of Nunez before the summer transfer window opened was another proactive move from Liverpool.
However, Mane has shown no signs of fading. far from there His form in the second half of 2021-22 was exceptional, contributing as much as anyone to the club struggling on four fronts until the end.
He scored at home and away to Villarreal in the semifinals of the Champions League. It was his goal that earned Liverpool a Premier League point at Manchester City in April and his superb header that kept their title bid alive at Aston Villa the following month.
In all, he scored 13 times in 27 games, largely operating as number nine, after assisting Senegal. win the African Cup of Nations in February. He scored the winning penalty in the penalty shootout against Egypt in the final.
“For the last four or five years it has been unbelievable,” former Manchester City midfielder and Ivory Coast midfielder Yaya Toure told BBC World Service.
“No disrespect to Mohamed Salah, who also did brilliantly, Raheem Sterling, Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo, how can you tell me that this boy is not in the top three for the Ballon d’Or? How is it possible?
“In terms of winning trophies, he’s up there. Liverpool at the moment are everywhere: Champions League, Premier League, FA Cup, League Cup.”
With Mane now joining Divock Origi off the Anfield exit and Takumi Minamino available for one move, all eyes will be on who comes in to bolster Liverpool’s attacking resources.
Darwin’s theory of evolution
An instinctive eye for goal is a given in a possible successor to Mane, averaging 20 goals per season in all competitions at Liverpool, many of them well received, predators with feet or heads.
Last season, his 16 league goals fell just short of his expected goals (xG) tally of 18.34, according to Opta, with a shot conversion rate 16.33% lower than some of his teammates , but on par with that of his fellow Jota (16.67). and Salah (16.55).
Mane has great awareness and opportunity both to find space and to capitalize on it. Allied to this is his ability to dribble and pass, which makes him just as difficult an enemy outside the box as he is inside.
Strength, speed and acceleration are great assets of his, not only to help his offensive performance, but for what he brings to a team that likes to push fiercely from the front.
According to football statistics site FBref.com, Liverpool’s proactive approach to the market has already paid off, with Diaz and Jota the two closest matches to Mane in style and performance in the winger and striker categories, respectively. .
Jota provided very similar attacking numbers (21 goals and eight assists), provided an even more efficient pressing game and showed a versatility to operate down the attacking line.
In just a few months, Diaz has shown he can provide goals, assists and more from the left side of attack, with his directness and slightly superior dribbling helping him create 1.54 chances per game to Mane’s 1.21 last season.
Rather than a direct replacement for Mane, Nunez ticks a slightly different box: as a predominantly center forward with an ability to move to good effect and with an elite eye for goal.
Last season, the 22-year-old scored 34 goals in 41 games for Benfica, including two against Liverpool in the Champions League quarter-finals. Had it not been for some runs at better times and Liverpool goalkeeper Alisson, he could have scored three or four at Anfield alone.
Quick, skilful, an extremely competent ball carrier – it’s clear why Klopp is so excited about signing Nunez, telling Liverpool’s website: “He’s got all the pieces we’re looking for. He can set a pace, he brings energy , can threaten space from wide, central areas and is aggressive and dynamic with his movement.”
But, above all, Núñez can finish off. In the past year, his goals per shot (0.31 per 90 minutes) and xG without a penalty (+0.41 per 90) rank him in the 99th percentile among his attacking peers in Europe’s top five leagues, according to FBref.
As Klopp also acknowledged, the Uruguayan is a “work in progress” who will be given time to develop as part of “wonderful attacking options.”
Mane may have pushed for his departure a bit, but in their clever planning ahead and spending heavily on supreme talent, Liverpool have tried to minimize the transition period to what could become another feared front three.