Sadio Mane is at his most dangerous when you think you’ve contained him
Liverpool‘s Premier League victory over West Ham was, for the most part, too tense for shenanigans. However, Sadio Mane found a brief window for it before the game started to get stupid.
David Moyes’ side was expected to put up much less of a fight, especially given their defensive display at Manchester City last time out, but took the lead in the second half before eventually falling to a Mane winner in the final 10 minutes. It was enough to preserve a perfect home record, but it wasn’t easy.
Nevertheless, in the simpler time of the first period, the Senegal international had time to have a little fun, unaware of the battle he was soon to be up against.
Mane can have a strange effect on people. You can know he’s better than you, and know you have to be sensible and restrained just to have any chance of containing him, only to ignore your own advice the second the problem becomes practical.
Maybe it’s because it’s hard for people to look at a career path involving Southampton and Red Bull Salzburg and think ‘one of the world’s best’, or perhaps it’s because Mohamed Salah has had more star power than his colleague, but there remains a feeling that he can’t be as good as you think, regardless of how much proof you see before your very eyes.
This is the issue that faced Robert Snodgrass, a player who likely kept his place in the West Ham team in part because of his ability to act as a more ‘defensive’ winger than the likes of Jarrod Bowen, who replaced him later on.
Snodgrass knows his limitations, and he’s seen Mane and the rest of the Liverpool front-line destroy better teams this season. He knows not to dive in or commit himself because his body works slower than the mind of his opponent. And yet, when push came to shove, this happened…
Mane is the hero at the centre of a Wild West brawl, watching bullets fly across a crowded saloon and elegantly stepping out of their path.
He brushes a tiny amount of debris off the shoulders of his near-untouched suit and walks to the bar, stepping over countless bodies strewn on the floor beneath him.
As he lets a deep sigh leave his body, he turns to Snodgrass, bullet-ridden and clawing at his pristine boots as if to ask ‘why’. His look is not one of glory but instead one of pity, telling the West Ham man with his eyes “what are you doing? It didn’t need to be like this”.
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You often get the sense with Mane that he doesn’t set out to destroy lives, but if they’re going to make it this easy for him then he really has no choice.
He knows he’s one of the best players in the Premier League, and everyone else knows it too. If they’re going to keep acting like he’s just some regular guy, even after he keeps showing them up time and time again, it feels rude not to give them fresh reminders every now and again.
After sliding in and committing himself like a child in his first ever game of playground football, Snodgrass eventually learns. Not because he wants to, necessarily, but because he has to. It’s not about trying to contain Mane – a lot of the time that won’t be possible – but about trying to save face.
Snodgrass, for all we know, might have factored in Mane stopping his run out of pity and urging the Scot to just have a look at himself. And, in fairness, that’s the only way the move could have ended without a Liverpool chance. It’s a bold strategy, but it’s not one you can exactly rely on.
The scariest thing, of course, is that wasn’t even Sadio Mane on top form.
Even on evenings when he’s not on his absolute A-game, he can still score a winning goal, have another chalked off for offside, and effectively end an opponent’s career with a piece of skill so subtle it probably took Snodgrass about 15 minutes to figure out what had happened to him.
Now your challenge is to envisage what he might be able to do you you on a good day. Scary, right?
by Tom Victor