Sadio Mane descends down the Anfield tunnel, fans hands outstretched at the chance of a cheeky high-five. His eyes fixated forward, a cold gaze speaking volumes for the unflappable focus he possesses. The jovial, slightly crazy Mane has been put to one side despite it being the perfect time for it to emerge – he’s just played the best 45 minutes of his career.
Unplayable. If you looked in a dictionary you’d find a picture of Mane wheeling away in celebration after scoring Liverpool’s fourth of the evening. With a goal and two assists, it was a performance that had it all.
The starter, a deliciously weighted pass into the feet of Divock Origi, showcasing vision and pinpoint accuracy. Stepping aside to admire his pass, it wasn’t long until the Senegalese sensation was joining the celebrations as Origi rounded the keeper to slot into an empty net.
The main course was vintage Mane, bringing a 50 yard pass down with ease he gets the ball out of his feet. Any cultured winger can drop the shoulder and go round his man – a bit of pace and you’re there. It’s a beautiful art and one he makes look easy, with twinkling toes he danced past Djibril Sidibé before displaying another masterpiece – a perfectly timed reverse pass into Xherdan Shaqiri’s feet. Divine service.
It’s what the big players do, they keep it simple when they need to and within just 17 minutes Liverpool found themselves two goals to the good with only one man to thank.
For desert it doesn’t get much better, picking the ball up in his own half Mane skips past Alex Iwobi before muscling off his efforts to bring him down. He releases the ball into the path of Alexander-Arnold then he’s off to the races, like a Greyhound his eyes locked onto the goal. Each stride pounds down onto the turf as he outruns four Everton players desperate to stop the embarrassment – once again, making football look easy.
The ball now back at his feet 18 yards from goal, he takes a quick look at Pickford’s positioning and fires down to his left. 4-1. Was there ever any doubt?
Placing fourth at the Ballon D’Or awards, Mane has catapulted himself to football’s top table, surpassing Kylian Mbappe, Robert Lewandowski and Eden Hazard who were all expected to compete with Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi. It’s the former who has been the most complimentary of his efforts, speaking to Canal+: “It’s a shame to see Mane finish in fourth place. Mane achieved a great year that was exceptional for the entire Liverpool team. That’s why I chose him.”
In the absence of Roberto Firmino and Mo Salah, fans were reminded of the most famous Anfield night in recent history – that memorable 4-0 win against Barcelona. While Mane didn’t have an impact that night, against Everton there was no debate.
The final product is what will be spoken about naturally but his tenacity in the final third is always worth mentioning. A nightmare for the Everton defenders he was relentless and constantly causing problems with his movement and runs.
Receiving the ball from deep and spotting the early pass is second nature to him while his pace on the break and ball carrying is unrivaled, every time the ball is at his feet you expect something. He’s a seat raiser and currently in the best form of his life, despite having only two weeks break in the summer. What other player on the earth right now could do that.