And the results are in. The winner of last week’s player of the season poll was none other than Sadio Mane with 57% of the vote. The official Liverpool FC Player of the Season has now picked up the highly acclaimed Friends of Liverpool Player of the Season award. The winger was the clear front-runner to win both awards, and it’s no wonder as he set the league alight whenever he stepped on the pitch.
Signed from Southampton last summer for £34 million, the price tag was seen as excessive by many at the time. Fans only had to wait 10 days after he signed to see him in action. And when The Reds played Tranmere Rovers in their first game of preseason everyone got to see just what kind of a player Jurgen Klopp had signed. Blessed with raw pace that no one else at the club had, Mane had already added a new dimension to Liverpool’s attack.
Fast forward to the opening day of the Premier League season and all the doubts over Mane had been vanquished before the campaign had even begun. A very strong preseason (which included a goal against Barcelona) eased almost every Liverpool fan’s fears. Thus when he started the season the way he did – scoring an absolute worldie past Cech after beating three defenders – it was made obvious that Liverpool had struck absolute gold.
Four goals were put past Arsenal that day, and Liverpool kept their free-scoring form for the rest of the calendar year. The front three were electric, with Mane in particular being the standout. Klopp’s men lost only one game in 2016 in which Mane featured, and that was away to Bournemouth in a game where they still managed to score three goals. An obvious formula had developed: Mane = goals.
Such beauty was found in Liverpool’s attacking displays in the first half of the season that it was almost forgotten that Mane had to leave in January. Everyone knew all season long that he had to fly away for the African Cup of Nations but it’s almost as if there was a unanimous mentality of “We’ll handle it when the time comes”. And boy did they fail at handling it. The month of January (and a lot of February) knocked Liverpool out of the title race, and almost saw them drop out of the top four.
Thus when Mane eventually returned, there was an unrealistic expectation put on him and the team to suddenly switch it on again. The Senegalese international showed The Reds what they had been missing when he almost single-handedly slayed Tottenham. But Liverpool showed they still hadn’t fully recovered by losing 3-1 to Leicester City in just the next gameweek.
Mane went on to grab 2 goals and an assist in his next four games, taking his season tallies up to 13 and 5 respectively. Those four games would prove to be his last however, as he picked up a nasty knee injury in the Merseyside Derby ruling him out for the rest of the season. Liverpool never really looked quite the same from there on out as Klopp had to constantly chop and change in order to try and make up for the loss of the winger.
After a difficult end to the season however, The Reds did eventually claim their goal of top four, thus achieving Champions League football once more. With Sadio Mane expected to be fully fit for the start of the new season, fans can be excited to see him back in action. Mane will be coming into next season knowing he made the PFA Team of the Season and won the Liverpool FC Player of the Season in his first year at the club. With no international tournaments to take him away and hopefully no long term injuries to deal with, he has the perfect chance next season to build on his incredibly successful debut campaign.