Sport Soccer

Saturday 24 February 2018

Magical Mane sparks talk of Suarez after five-star show

Chris Bascombe

An Anfield evolution off the field has been necessary for 20 years, but it is the thrill of seeing those performing on the pitch that truly replenishes this great stadium.

How reassuring it was for Jurgen Klopp that, for all the splendour of Liverpool's new Main Stand, the topic of conversation had turned from it to the humbling of champions Leicester City.

"That was some football, hey?" was the observation of the club's principle owner, John W. Henry.

Fenway Sports Group invested £115m to ensure Liverpool's home reflects their status. The senior members of the ownership group returned to the United States increasingly confident the team will soon do likewise.

The 20,000 supporters accommodated in their renovated surroundings were eased to the edge of their freshly polished seats, before opting to stand in appreciation - Leicester comprehensively beaten with the kind of gear-shifting attacking football that is becoming Liverpool's signature style.

It can be fitful at times - Liverpool performing in 10-minute bursts before committing moments of self-harm - but it is spine-tinglingly good to watch.

On this form, Klopp's "heavy metal football" is quickly becoming more 'thrash metal'.

Klopp, as with all managers, has little time for the cult of individual worship, yet even he could not resist choreographing the injury-time applause for Sadio Mane (above).

The Senegal attacker began his home debut nervously, seemingly in need of shifting the cement from his boots before he could accustom himself to his environment.

That changed with a one-two with Nathaniel Clyne midway through the first half easing his anxieties, after which the £30m signing found the net and delivered the most stirring home debut since Luis Suarez's introduction five years ago.

To clarify, we shall not prematurely suggest Mane is Liverpool's next Suarez. What we can say is no recent recruit has convinced so many, so swiftly, that he is going to make supporters dance into the arena.

Nor has any recent Liverpool signing caused such palpitations in opposing defenders when he is in possession.

The Kop can feel it; his team-mates know it. Naturally, Mane is sensing it.

"I will be happy if they are afraid of me because it will make it easier for me," said the Senegal forward.

"It was easier for me, especially, because when you are new it can sometimes be difficult to adapt into the team. But it is easy with great players like Daniel and Coutinho and Firmino as well.

"When you play in a stadium like Anfield you want to give your best and get an ovation at the end, so I try my best.

"I am in a good way, but you have to work. That work started on the day I signed and now I have to keep going in training and show it every game."

Early predictions of the beginnings of a memorable Liverpool career, perhaps.

"I'm just pleased because it is a great compliment to be compared to the legendary players," he said.

"But I am still young and learning and need to give my best for the team."

Mane's combinations with the equally impressive Roberto Firmino, Daniel Sturridge and Adam Lallana ensured the ghastly error by Lucas to gift Jamie Vardy a tap-in was significant for less than 20 minutes.


Firmino and Mane had opened the scoring and the flaw in Klopp's side at the moment is that, while Liverpool's goals are well crafted, they have a capacity to concede in the most uncouth ways.

The manager's tantrum aimed at the Kop for singing his name after Lallana added a third demonstrated concern that another defensive lapse was not far off.

The Kop worships its managers and such chants are not, as Klopp fears, a demonstration of complacency.

Once Mane's pace turned an 89th-minute 50-50 sprint with Kasper Schmeichel into 70-30 in his favour, it was evident Leicester's improved second-half would not lead to a tense finale.

Firmino was composed enough to find the empty net and the score reflected the difference in the sides.

Leicester knew this challenge awaited them, opponents finding an extra yard of motivation when champions come to town.

Two defeats in four games makes retaining the title seem as unlikely as winning it in the first place.

"We didn't really turn up," was the honest appraisal of Danny Drinkwater. © Daily Telegraph, London.

liverpool 4

leicester 1

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