Recently, Sky Sports pundit Paul Merson commented that Sadio Mane’s sale to Bayern Munich is the primary factor behind Liverpool’s demise this season.
This take is far from an unpopular opinion, with many fans and pundits alike pointing to the Senegalese winger’s exit as the only possible explanation behind why the Reds are sitting in eighth place in the Premier League.
However, this black-and-white manner of assessing the Merseyside-based side’s demise is extremely reductive to say the least.
Mane was far from perfect last season
For starters, the 30-year old was a shadow of his usual devastating self in the first half of last season and yet, Jurgen Klopp’s side were in contention to win a historic quadruple.
While Mane exhibited his class as a false nine at the turn of the year, the likes of Mohamed Salah, Thiago and Trent Alexander-Arnold were the arguably the biggest contributors behind the club flirting till the very end with an unprecedented accomplishment.
Ultimately, tons of discourse around the 2021 AFCON champion tends to be nostalgia-driven, as Sadio Mane well and truly peaked during the 2019/2020 campaign.
Diving into what has gone pear-shaped at Liverpool this season, it is a multitude of factors that have prompted understandable questions about their incredible cycle coming to an end.
For instance, the recruitment in the summer was appallingly naïve from the Reds in terms of the goals they set out to achieve at the start of the campaign.
In midfield, the only addition made by the six-time European Cup winners was Fabio Carvalho.
While the former Fulham wonderkid has shown signs that he could reach the very top one day, it has been unreasonable from Liverpool to expect a raw prospect such as himself to share his side’s creative responsibilities with Harvey Elliott in the middle of the park.
With there being enough red flags about Fabinho’s athleticism slowing down in the previous term as well, Liverpool’s decision not to bring in a fresh face to compete for the number six role remains baffling.
Similarly, Jordan Henderson endured an underwhelming season, especially trying to emulate Harvey Elliott’s role as a right-sided midfielder.
While the Liverpool captain is playing in a deeper role this term, his pass accuracy and ability to dictate the tempo of games fell off a cliff and yet, an alternative was not brought into the side this summer.
Despite Thiago remaining at the peak of his powers, his availability is still perhaps the only blatant chink in his armour.
Last season, the Spanish international missed a staggering 17 games through injury.
Considering the former Bayern Munich lynchpin is the side’s most key midfielder, it was painfully obvious that the club needed to bring in a new name ahead of a campaign where their primary target was to right their wrongs.
Instead, a replacement was simply not signed, as Thiago has ended up missing five league games already.
In terms of bringing in a successor to Sadio Mane as well, it would have been a far more sensible call to bring in a forward that could play across the frontline, instead of signing a traditional No.9 such as Darwin Nunez.
A player closer to the former Southampton superstar’s profile would have allowed Jurgen Klopp to continue to operate with a fluid front three, whilst providing the versatility of functioning out wide at the highest level.
It’s safe to say that one can go on and on about Liverpool’s botch-job in the transfer window last summer.
Dramatic drop-offs from some of the best of the best
While we have alluded to how Fabinho and Jordan Henderson have endured an undeniable decline, the same can be said for the likes of Trent Alexander-Arnold, Virgil van Dijk and Mohamed Salah this season.
This is not to suggest that said trio have the inability to return to their brilliant best.
However, it has been a shock to the system for Liverpool that three of arguably the best players in their positions, alongside Fabinho and Henderson have been a shadow of their former selves.
While Alexander-Arnold’s defensive game has always been a point of conversation, the same cannot be said for his staggering impact going forward.
However, the 24-year old has been abysmal at both ends of the pitch thus far.
Virgil van Dijk’s case is yet another curious one, as several individual errors coupled with his tendency not to close down attackers have led to uncharacteristic mishaps at the back.
And while Salah was expected to return to his terrifying best after being handed the most expensive contract extension in Liverpool history, he had scored a mere 4 league goals before the start of October.
While Sadio Mane has been a pillar behind the Reds’ rise in recent years, to pigeonhole him as the prime factor behind the side’s downfall is far from the truth.
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