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Steven Gerrard and Luis Suarez prove Sadio Mane overreacted with Liverpool claim – Liverpool Echo

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Now that the difficult 2020/21 season is behind us, we can begin to assess who did or didn’t have a great campaign for Liverpool over the last eight months.

Nobody will need it explaining that Mohamed Salah was comfortably the Reds’ top scorer, with the Egyptian breaking the 30-goal barrier for the second time since joining the club.

When it came to setting goals up for teammates, Trent Alexander-Arnold and Roberto Firmino finished joint-top of the pile with nine assists each.

But what of Sadio Mane? Few Kopites would argue that he has been at his best this season, and the player himself displayed an honesty all too rarely seen from professionals when he admitted he had been below par this term.

“If you ask me what is wrong I will struggle to give you an answer,” he said in an interview earlier this month.

“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.”

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Yet things have been far from as bleak for Mane as many people would automatically assume, particularly in the last couple of months.

He had a run of six starts without a goal or assist as November turned into December, but his longest stretch after that without directly contributing to a goal only extended to three matches in the starting XI.

Liverpool have had to put in a supreme team effort of the last 10 league games of a testing campaign in order to qualify for the Champions League, and Mane has done more than most to ensure they achieved their target.

The Senegalese striker scored four goals and assisted four more in that period as the Reds’ charged to a third place finish, and nobody else in Jurgen Klopp’s squad made as many goal contributions.

He got no more than 16 minutes against both Aston Villa and Manchester United, leaving the 1-1 draw with Newcastle the only match in the last 10 which Mane started but didn’t either score or set up a goal.

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And if we add on the ‘home’ match with RB Leipzig, then Liverpool’s number 10 rounded off the 2020/21 season with nine goal contributions in his final 11 starts.

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That’s an excellent return in anyone’s books, and especially so at the business end of the season when goals and assists feel like they count for that little bit more.

So why do so many people – including the player himself – feel he has underperformed in 2020/21?

A big part of the issue is in the word ‘underperformed’. Most players would be delighted to have ended a season with 16 goals and eight assists, yet it somehow feels like a massive drop on what Mane normally provides.

It isn’t in reality though. Across his first four years on Merseyside, Mane made an average of 27.3 goal contributions per season, with his high point being 32 in 2019/20.

To finish with 24 is obviously not quite as good but neither has his record fallen off a cliff. The incredible, unstoppable form of Liverpool’s front three over the last four years has completely rewritten realistic expectations for an attacking player.

If we look at the 13 year period between the start of the Rafa Benitez era and when Salah was signed, there were only 10 instances of a Liverpool player contributing directly to at least 24 goals in a season (per LFCHistory).

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Steven Gerrard did so four times, Fernando Torres and Luis Suarez each recorded two such campaigns, while Dirk Kuyt and Daniel Sturridge did so once each.

What would once have been notable now seems normal, or even underwhelming in Mane’s case.

But if that is the price of being one of the best forwards in world football with the impeccable standards which such a position requires, then there are certainly worse problems to have.

And with his form over the closing weeks of 2020/21 Mane helped drag Liverpool into the top four.

If this has been a terrible season for the former Southampton man, then the Premier League had better watch out as he appears to be heading back towards something like his best form.

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