By 90Min
October 04, 2019

Liverpool's front three, being the destructive force that it is, goes largely unparalleled in the modern footballing climate. 

Manchester City, Bayern Munich, Juventus, Real Madrid, even Barcelona - who boast Lionel Messi among their ranks; none of these sides currently have a cohesive attacking unit that does the consistent damage that Liverpool's Mohamed Salah, Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mané do over the course of a season.

But as dangerous a weapon as their attacking trident is, with three players contributing equally to the cause while competing unwittingly for the credit, it usually leads to one of them being labelled the 'forgotten man'.

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It tends to come in cycles of two or three months at a time, but at any given point, one of the trio of Salah, Firmino and Mané is usually perceived as the least important of the three.

The biggest victim of that is the latter, who doesn't quite match the goal and assist numbers of Salah and doesn't quite bind the team together in the same way that Firmino does.

Does any of that make him less effective than the other two? Those with a brain for football tend to answer that question with a vehement 'no'. 

Cesc Fabrégas of Arsenal, Barça and Chelsea fame is among those to have been effusive in his praise of Mane, going as far as to claim he has been among the top three players in the world over the last few seasons. 

But while that might seem like a bit of a hot take, he hardly has to show his working for us to see where it comes from. 

Last season in the Premier League, Mané finished as joint-winner of the golden boot with Salah and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang on 22 goals. He did this despite averaging just 2.4 shots per game, which is more than an a shot per game fewer than his Egyptian teammate (3.6) and marginally fewer than the latter (2.6). Sergio Aguero, who finished on 21 goals, averaged 3.6.

While his pace, energy and dynamism are the attributes that make him ideal for the Liverpool system, his clinical streak in front of goal is largely what makes him a truly world class talent, and you only have to look at his moments of unconventional ingenuity to get a strong understanding of that.

His rinsing of Manuel Neuer with a preternatural turn on the ball back in March paled in comparison to the science-defying backheel dink that left Ben Foster on the ground just a fortnight earlier. Both of these bits of skill would have been enough to make peak Diego Maradona weep, and came while he was playing out of his regular position as a central striker. 

He has incidentally never really been given a run of games in that position, although Klopp's choice of tactics when Firmino is unavailable hints at faith in him as a number nine. Divock Origi, when he features, usually does so on the left wing, with Mané shifted inside due to his work-rate and predatory instincts. 

Another factor that isn't blatantly reflected in the statistics is his tendency to show up and make a difference on the big occasions. Six of his 22 strikes in the 2018/19 Premier League proved to be match-winners; of those to score upwards of 15 goals, only Salah, Sergio Aguero, Harry Kane and Jamie Vardy managed more decisive strikes. 

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Demonstrating his big-match mentality further is his strike rate in the Champions League. With his goal against Salzburg he moved onto 15 in the competition in just 26 appearances. He has become the second fastest African player to hit that landmark (Salah included), with only Didier Drogba (25 games) managing it faster. 

Although it was Salah and Origi who stepped up to find the net in that all-important final in Madrid, you're left wondering where Liverpool would have been if not for Mané's ruthlessness and bottle. Not there at all, would be this writer's guess. 

While on the face of it Mane may 'just' be an electric wide forward capable of chipping in with 20 goals per season, of which there are a handful in world football, if he was to leave Liverpool they would find it a near-impossible task to find a player as clinical in front of goal, with the mindset and aptitude to change games that Mané possesses.

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This, above all else, is what he's bringing to the table that Salah and Firmino may not on a regular basis, and why he should never again be overlooked as the 'other' guy. 

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