Liverpool ran riot at the Theatre of Dreams last week — but Sadio Mane’s season is turning into a nightmare.
The Senegalese star, 29, watched on from the bench as all three forwards in Jurgen Klopp’s starting XI got on the scoresheet in the 4-2 win over Manchester United.
Perhaps the lasting memory of his eventual cameo, which lasted just 16 minutes, arrived after the final whistle when he was caught on camera ignoring his manager as he trudged off towards the tunnel.
As Klopp’s men prepare for a trip to Burnley tonight, we explore what the future holds for Liverpool’s No10.
All good things must come to an end
For the first time in a very long time, it feels as though one of Liverpool’s famous front three has been upgraded upon.
Diogo Jota has been a revelation this season but his performance against United had all the hallmarks of a coming-of-age display — the hosts simply could not get close to him.
It was his snapshot out of nothing to force the corner that Liverpool equalised from, before his deft touch directed Nat Phillips’ cross-cum-shot past Dean Henderson.
It was even Jota, 24, who regained possession on the edge of the area prior to Roberto Firmino’s second goal.
In a sense this was a quintessential Mane-esque performance from the Portuguese attacker — but one the man himself has failed to deliver all season.
There can only be one alpha
There have been suggestions for some time now that Liverpool’s frontline needs freshening up.
Mohamed Salah tends to be the player linked with a move elsewhere but Mane could well be the one sacrificed.
The Egyptian is on course for yet another Golden Boot — his third in four seasons — and he has almost single-handedly kept his team in the race for the top four with his goals.
If Liverpool only retain the frontman with the best end product, there is no doubt Salah is some way ahead of Mane this term.
A sign of things to come?
When there is a drop in form, the numbers usually go some way to explaining why.
This is not the case with Mane, though. His output — shots, touches in the box, passes and dribbles — have all remained fairly consistent.
The only difference is the most important one, goals, of which he has scored just nine in the Premier League in 2020-21.
Sometimes it is more about psychology than ability. The player himself was worried enough by his form to have tests done and spoke about his struggles just last week.
He said: “This is the worst season of my career. I have to admit it.
“If you ask me what is wrong I will struggle to give you an answer. Personally, I don’t know. I have always tried to be positive, whether things are going well or badly. I question myself all the time.
“I even underwent a test to take a look at my body. Am I eating the right foods or has everything changed? But they checked the test results and everything is fine.”
The jury remains out on whether this is just a bad patch of form or if it will become the norm for Mane.
The former Southampton man has often played as though he has a point to prove.
Following defeat to Real Madrid in the 2018 Champions League final, Mane was a man possessed the following season.
He scored twice in the Allianz Arena to help Liverpool beat Bayern Munich and then scored in the Estadio do Dragao as the Reds made their way past Porto.
With Firmino and Salah injured, it was Mane who carried the fight to Barcelona in that historic second-leg comeback, while he also won a penalty in the final as Klopp’s men beat Tottenham 2-0.
It was a similar story in the Premier League. After missing out on the title in 2018–19, Mane appeared to make it his quest to right that wrong — and he helped Liverpool do exactly that last season.
With little else to prove, it is perhaps no wonder his performance levels have dropped.
One last hurrah
With no Jota for the final two matches of the season, Mane will once again be a guaranteed starter.
If Liverpool are to claim a top-four finish, they need the fleet-footed forward to be at his best.
It was not pretty against West Brom last Sunday as the Reds won 2-1 but Mane played a significant role in the equaliser and Klopp will hope for more of the same tonight.
Mane will not want to potentially go out with a whimper — this is his chance to further cement his status as an Anfield legend.