Sadio Mane's rapid decline should be a major concern for Liverpool

The inquest into Liverpool's officially failed title defence is well underway, after Manchester City's victory over Leicester City put top spot mathematically out of the Reds' reach.

With eight games to play, Jurgen Klopp's men have already surrendered their crown, languishing an unbelievable 25 points behind Pep Guardiola's side, and there are genuine concerns that the champions won't even make the top four this season.

Bored Jurgen Klopp GIF by Liverpool FC - Find & Share on GIPHY

This fall from grace could never have been predicted at the start of the campaign, and while many are willing to chalk it up to bad luck with injuries to key players, others are keen to scratch deeper below the surface and uncover exactly why the wheels have fallen off at Anfield.

Liverpool's misfortune in the centre-back department has been done to death, and tales of their defensive woes will be told for generations. But aside from the problems at the back, there is an even greater concern growing for Klopp and his staff.

That concern is the spiralling form of Sadio Mane.

The Senegalese forward was all at sea in the Spanish capital on Tuesday evening, as the Reds succumbed to a 3-1 defeat to Real Madrid in the Champions League quarter-final, giving them a mountain to climb in the return leg at Anfield on April 14.

Mane's performance was so bad, that it led ex-Liverpool star Stephen Warnock to suggest the best course of action would be to drop the 28-year-old from the starting lineup altogether, for the benefit of the team.

Strong words, when discussing the 2018/19 Premier League top scorer, and a key contributor to the Champions League and Premier League successes over the past three seasons. But the time has come to talk about Mane's abysmal form, which appears to be one of the main factors behind Liverpool's nosedive.

The truth is, when Mane plays well, Liverpool play well. In fact, the Reds have not lost in any of the 10 league games in which he has provided a goal contribution. However, these offerings are scarce in comparison to previous years.

His seven strikes and six assists in 27 league appearances speak of a man whose confidence has fallen through the floor, and the year 2021 has been a particularly rotten patch - where he's mustered a solitary Premier League goal.

Mane has endured a torrid 2021 | Fran Santiago/Getty Images

Mane's numbers are a far cry from last season's tally, when he scored 18 goals and provided nine assists. What is so striking about his statistics from the title-winning campaign, is the consistency and regularity in which he delivered for the Reds.

Those 18 strikes came in 17 different matches, managing a single brace against Newcastle United back in September 2019. Now, while some may see his inability to double up in matches as a drawback to his game, it instead highlights that he could be relied upon for a goal in almost half of their fixtures.

Moreover, eight of those goals arrived in games which Liverpool won by a one-goal margin, while his brace proved decisive in the aforementioned 3-1 victory over the Magpies.

A clutch performer, then.

And so, while Mohamed Salah may grab the headlines for his regular braces and hat-tricks, Mane has always been the man scoring when it mattered most, helping his side across the line.

So, now that Mane's clutch moments have dried up, it's no surprise that Liverpool are losing games by a single goal or looking blunt in attack. Instead, Salah is now the man responsible for all the goals in this side, given Roberto Firmino's apparent free pass as a non-scoring striker.

But what has caused Mane to fail so miserably this season? Have the injuries to defenders meant that his position and role in the team has changed? Perhaps. Has the arrival of Diogo Jota, or the constant praise of Salah unsettled him? Maybe.

Or could it be that after five years at Anfield and having achieved everything he set out to achieve, Mane has lost that hunger and motivation which separated him from the other forwards in the English top flight? It's hard to say.

However, one thing is for sure. The power is shifting under Klopp, and Jota's superb half-hour cameo against Arsenal on Saturday evening demonstrated that new blood is the answer to injecting some desire and ruthlessness into that previously untouchable front three.

The fact that we're even discussing dropping one of the attacking trident tells you everything you need to know. This is not the same Liverpool as last year, and the time may have come to accept the need for some new life - no matter how painful it may be.

Source : 90min