Liverpool: Mané admits to "worst season of my career"
Sadio Mané has struggled for answers to explain his drop in form, but his former coach Alain Giresse has encouraged him not to lose heart.
Sadio Mané has been urged "not to panic" despite the Liverpool forward admitting he is enduring the worst season of his career by his standards. The Senegal international has scored 13 times in all competitions this season, nine of which have come in the Premier League, with his effort against Southampton last weekend just his third league goal at Anfield in 2020-21.
That form has been in stark contrast to last season, when Mané scored 18 times in the top flight alone to help propel the Reds to their first Premier League title. The 29-year-old has struggled to find answers to his problems and has even sought medical advice to see if physical impairments are behind them.
"This is the worst season of my career. I have to admit it," he told Canal Plus. "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. I need to understand that in life there are ups and downs. I will keep on working hard – and perhaps in time this situation will pass."
Mané's output in terms of creating for others is similar to last season's: he is only two assists (five) and seven chances created (52) down on the numbers he recorded in the league in 2020-21. His reduction in goals is also not for lack of trying. He has already attempted 86 shots in the league this season, nine more than last season, while his shot accuracy has dropped by just three per cent. Similarly, his conversion rate for Opta-defined 'big chances' has only reduced by 4.4 per cent.
However, his overall shot conversion rate in the league this season has dropped to 10.47% from 23.38% in 2019-20. This indicates a broader problem with his finishing – and the evidence supports this.
Last season, Mané scored 18 times in the league from an Expected Goals figure of only 13.67. His Expected Goals on Target – a metric that helps to model the quality of a player's on-target shots – was 15.86. That gives him a difference between xG and xGOT, called Shooting Goals Added (SGA), of 2.21.
This indicates that, when presented with a chance by team-mates, Mané was often executing shots that were in locations a goalkeeper would find difficult to save. In other words, he was finishing clinically. This season, however, things have changed. Mané's xG in 2020-21 has lowered slightly to 12.45, but his xGOT has dropped substantially to 10.65, giving him an SGA of -1.8. The likelihood of him scoring this season based on the quality of his own shooting has fallen discernibly, albeit not massively
If Mané's problems in front of goal are clear but not drastic, what is the solution? The message from one former coach is clear: don't panic. Alain Giresse, who was Senegal coach from 2013 to 2015, thinks part of the problem is that Jürgen Klopp's side were always bound to suffer some sort of dip in standards given their sustained excellence in the previous two seasons.
"The pole vaulter who is getting people used to clearing six metres, the day he clears 5.80m, we're not going to question it," Giresse told Stats Perform. "The seasons that Liverpool have just had were at such a high level that to keep them for years to come is extremely difficult. They have dominated European football and English football. To stay at the top at this level is very complicated. Something eventually erodes and they are in the middle of that. I'm still in touch with Sadio and I tell him not to panic even though it's clear you have to work constantly. Clubs know this. For example, Monaco were on a 12-game winning run, and when they lost the 13th game in Strasbourg, the coach said that it was bound to happen. The problem in this type of situation is that you get the impression that it's the end of the world. You say to yourself that out of 13 games, you lose one, while you've won all the others... Liverpool are in a similar situation."