Despite dominating Crystal Palace at the weekend with 70% possession, Liverpool fans would have felt justified in feeling worried about not seeing a 1-0 lead out with 15 minutes to go.
The fact that Liverpool had over 500 more passes than Palace or that they touched the ball 425 times more would have meant little had Christian Benteke found the back of the net in the dying moments of the game.
In all fairness, as Jürgen Klopp pointed out, Liverpool actually did defend quite well with the introduction of Andy Robertson, Ragnar Klavan and Joe Gomez bolstering a leaky backline.
Of course, there were still moments when supporters’ hearts missed a beat but a clean sheet and three points at home will always be appreciated.
Despite Andy Robertson’s hugely impressive debut performance at Anfield this weekend, I couldn’t shake the feeling that Sadio Mané has taken on the mantle of Liverpool’s talisman overnight in the absence of Philippe Coutinho.
Out with a ‘back injury’, the Brazilian has missed the club’s opening three games in all competitions through a combination of injury and speculation of a move to Barcelona. To put it plainly, Coutinho has behaved like a brat after being told he can’t get what he wants.
In January this year, the former Inter Milan midfielder signed a new contract with Liverpool – willingly I might add and with a smile on his face. He was given a pay rise, now earning an impressive £150,000-a-week for his services after a barnstorming start to the 2016/17 season.
The key part about the new contract that Liverpool put on the table was the fact that the Reds chose not to include a release clause.
It was a great move because, despite Coutinho professing his desire to win titles with Liverpool and prove his loyalty, he handed in a transfer request eight months later and the night before the club’s first game of the new Premier League season no less.
As you would expect, Liverpool fans have taken offence at Coutinho’s actions. Until a couple weeks ago, few would have really believed that the Brazilian would ever hand in a transfer request – even if he was put up to it by his representatives.
Coutinho and his antics aside, Liverpool fans need to realise that the no.10 isn’t the be all and the end all. The likes of Luis Suarez and Fernando Torres have left under different circumstances in recent years but the club lives on without them.
In fact, I feel you can make an argument for the fact that Sadio Mané has helped alleviate the need for a talisman in Coutinho’s absence and out of the two would actually be tougher to replace.
There’s no disputing the veritable quality that Coutinho brings to this Liverpool side and in his absence it’s clear how much that is missed. Last season, the Brazilian scored 13 Premier League goals while creating a further 7.
Carragher on Mané: "You see the goals that he’s got and his goals record for a wide player is phenomenal since he’s come to the club."
— Anfield HQ (@AnfieldHQ) August 22, 2017
Although Coutinho has been known to score important goals for Liverpool, it’s creativity that has gone begging the last two weeks. Liverpool’s teammates had 65 chances created by the no.10 last season and his absence recently has been clear as the Reds’ midfield has lacked creativity from deep.
Yet, with many fans having been confronted with the thought of having to replace Coutinho, it occurred to me that in terms of goals scored and assists provided for teammates, Liverpool have Sadio Mané who pretty much matched the Brazilian stat for stat last season, playing four games fewer.
They are two different players and occupy two different roles but Mané offers something that I think Liverpool would struggle to replace more than what Coutinho does.
In his first few games for Liverpool, I wasn’t sure if it was just the unreal pace that Sadio Mané that sets him apart but it soon dawned upon me just how good a finisher he is. His instinct for goal cannot be taught and in the absence of a world class striker up front, his goal contribution is huge for Liverpool.
So far this season, Mané has scored two Premier League goals in as many appearances while it was quite the surprise that he didn’t come anywhere near to scoring against Hoffenheim despite a Man of the Match display.
As important as his goals and assists are, it’s Mané’s desire to play for Klopp, though, that sets him apart from Coutinho. The Senegal attacker is very different to Coutinho in that he has a desire to give his all for Liverpool.
Supporters pick up on things like this and the former Southampton man’s joyous celebration against Crystal Palace was delightful to see, even if he was brushed aside by Klopp.
There are some important fixtures coming up for Liverpool in the coming days and with Coutinho not likely to be reintegrated into the squad until after the international break, Mané will need to continue leading the line against Hoffenheim and Arsenal.
Victory in both games will see more positivity return to a fan base angry about transfers and would represent a good start to the season. Securing passage into the group stages of the Champions League is hugely important for the Reds to call last season a success.