Home » Liverpool FC » Salah could make Man City pay as Guardiola puts Mane in the spotlight

Pep Guardiola hadn’t even mentioned Sadio Mane, but everyone knew who he was talking about.

As the Manchester City boss spoke following his side’s come-from-behind win over Southampton Saturday, he was asked about the fact that Liverpool had done the very same in even more dramatic circumstances at Aston Villa.

As is so often the case these days, Mane had been at the centre of it all: seeing yellow for simulation, setting up the equaliser, and then heading home the winner.

And so, when Guardiola’s reply alluded to the Reds’ talent for “sometimes diving” and "sometimes [scoring] incredible goals in the last minute”, it wasn’t exactly difficult to work out which individual he was probably thinking of.

Those comments appeared to confirm that Mane’s standing in the minds of opposition managers has largely followed the same trajectory as his all-round game since a move to Anfield in the summer of 2016.

Liverpool Football Correspondent David Lynch looks back at the biggest results of Jurgen Klopp’s career at Anfield… Jurgen Klopp’s first ever Premier League win just so happened to come at the home of the reigning champions thanks to Philippe Coutinho’s brace and a further strike from substitute Christian Benteke. The Reds’ revival under Klopp continued as they denied Manchester City the chance to return to the top of the table by hammering Manuel Pellegrini’s men in their own back yard. The first of countless dramatic wins under Klopp was secured at Carrow Road as Liverpool came back from 3-1 down to lead, conceded an injury-time equaliser, and then somehow scored again. Klopp’s first great European night at Anfield saw his former side Borussia Dortmund beaten by an unforgettable comeback in the quarter-finals of the Europa League. Liverpool got their push for a return to the Champions League under way with a thrilling win at Arsenal on the first day of the season. They would ultimately pip the Gunners to fourth place by a single point. A 94th-minute winner at the home of your rivals from down the road? It doesn’t get much better than that. The Reds showed a resilience that had long been missing prior to Klopp’s appointment as two second-half goals saw them come from behind to take three crucial points from a typically obstinate Stoke. Georginio Wijnaldum’s powerful strike in first-half injury time set Liverpool on their way to a win that secured a long-awaited return to the Champions League. Three goals in a thrilling eight-minute spell helped Klopp’s side inflict a first league defeat of the season on eventual champions Manchester City. Another irresistible spell from the Reds saw City 3-0 down with just over half an hour gone of this Champions League quarter-final tie. They would go on to reach the final that year. Liverpool waited until the final day of the Premier League season to secure their place in the Champions League again, thrashing Brighton at Anfield. Yet more heartbreak for the Toffees, this time thanks to an even later goal as Divock Origi headed home in the 96th minute at Anfield. A Xherdan Shaqiri double from the bench earned Klopp his first Premier League win over Manchester United and ended Jose Mourinho’s reign at Old Trafford. Klopp hailed Liverpool’s return to “the top level of European football" after they comfortably beat Bayern Munich to reach the Champions League quarter-finals. Arguably Anfield’s greatest ever European night saw Liverpool overturn a three-goal aggregate deficit to storm into a second consecutive European Cup final. Klopp secured his first trophy as Liverpool manager and the club’s sixth European Cup as Tottenham Hotspur were beaten in a balmy Madrid.

At Southampton, the Senegalese was a tricky, pacey and slightly raw winger with great potential; now, he is a world-class forward worthy of gracing any team - no wonder Guardiola and others are so concerned.

But, if there is one slightly surprising element to Mane’s new-found prominence, it is that it has come at a cost to his team-mate on the opposite flank.

That is because, at times, it feels that every deserved word of praise aimed at Liverpool’s No10 is followed by suggestions that his fellow winger Mohamed Salah isn’t quite the player he was.

Earlier this week, Reds legend Phil Thompson expressed ‘concern’ that a recent ankle injury may well have led to what he believes has been slow start from the Egyptian this term.

That was followed by Michael Owen claiming that Salah is now ‘obsessed’ with scoring - an observation felt loaded with negative implications regarding his overall game.

But perhaps the best evidence of a wider shift in perceptions could be seen in the absence of a back-to-back Premier League Golden Boot winner from many of those headline-grabbing combined XIs featured on Sky Sports this week.

Unfortunately for the Reds’ domestic and European rivals, reports of their main man suffering a slump appear to have been greatly exaggerated.

For starters, Salah’s first 13 appearances of the new season have brought eight goals and five assists; figures that compare more than kindly to Mane’s eight goals and three assists from 15 outings in that period.

And, even when you scratch beyond the surface, the numbers continue to show that the 27-year-old is on track for yet another remarkable campaign.

Across the Premier League and Champions League this season, Salah has posted 4.1 shots per 90 minutes - exactly the same figure he ended up with last term.

He is also averaging 11 touches in the opposition box (up from last season’s 9.4), and 20.5 final third passes per 90 minutes (an improvement on 18.6 in 2018-19).

So, if goals and assists aren’t proof enough that the Liverpool forward isn’t suffering from a loss of form, then perhaps the fact that he is consistently getting into the position to add to his tally on either front is?

Of course, Jurgen Klopp will hope that this isn’t quite as obvious to opposition managers, starting with Manchester City’s on Sunday.

If Guardiola really is focused on Mane going into that heavyweight Anfield clash, then Salah is sure to make him regret it.