Kepa Arrizabalaga was once again at the centre of another calamity, the shot-stopper, shorn of confidence, caught dallying on the ball, allowing Sadio Mane to step in and send the game beyond the reach of Frank Lampard‘s side.
To all intents and purposes it was a dreadful error, but it was borne out of the sheer will shown by the Senegal striker, the kind of determination that has come to underline his contribution to Jurgen Klopp‘s side.
Sadio Mane received plenty of plaudits yet again after his starring role for Liverpool at Chelsea
The Senegal striker scored twice at Stamford Bridge to secure the Reds’ win against Chelsea
Sure, Mane’s ball down the line for Roberto Firmino wasn’t well placed – and his reaction, a small anguished hop, showed that Liverpool’s No 10 knew it.
But his reaction to his mistake carried the kind of energy that has seen him propelled into conversations on the Premier League’s best attackers over the past three seasons.
He appeared to see what Kurt Zouma was about to do before the Chelsea defender did, making a beeline for Kepa in anticipation of the imminent back-pass.
With the forward coming from behind a static Firmino, the keeper assumed he had time to take a touch before playing it out from the back. By the time he saw Mane, it was too late.
The reading of the situation, the speed with which he reacted, and the control in intercepting the ball were all signatures of a player on top of his game. And many know it.
Cesc Fabregas, the former Chelsea midfielder, was the first to signal such sentiments on Twitter. ‘I’ll say it again. Mane best player in the League,’ the Monaco man wrote.
He was joined by Jamie Carragher, who effused praise from an Anfield perspective.
‘I think Mane is one of the best left-sided attacking players in world football. I love him’, Carragher told Sky Sports.
Jamie Carragher was effusive in his praise for the 28-year-old after his role in the victory
‘He’s the first big signing for Jurgen Klopp and that got Liverpool into the Champions League in Klopp’s first season. He’s been a constant and he’s an absolute superstar.’
The Reds legend went one further, suggesting that, when all is said and done, Anfield regulars may be talking about a new left winger slotting into their all-time XIs.
‘We loved John Barnes and he has always been in Liverpool’s best ever XI, wide left,’ added Carragher. ‘I think when Mane finishes he’s going to be really pushing John Barnes for that position.’
This is, of course, a bold assertion. John Barnes made 402 appearances for Liverpool, scoring 106 goals, laying on 70 more. He lifted two league titles, two FA Cups and the League Cup during his time on Merseyside.
Mane is not even halfway to those appearances, but he has racked up 83 goals and a further 34 assists. He now has a Premier League winner’s medal to add to his Champions League one, as well as Super Cup and Club World Cup successes.
It is an eye-catching record, not least for someone whose transfer to Liverpool in 2016 was met with a few raised eyebrows.
Mane was not exactly pulling up trees at Southampton when he was first introduced to the Premier League, scraping into double figures when it came to goals in his first two seasons in England – although he did score the fastest hat-trick in the top flight’s history, taking just two minutes and 56 seconds to score three against Aston Villa in 2015.
Mane struck Jurgen Klopp as a ‘rapper just starting out’ when he first saw him at Salzburg
However, the German boss has been more than happy to admit his first impression was wrong
But his performances against Liverpool stuck in the memory at Anfield, enough for Klopp to change his first impression of ‘rapper just starting out‘ at Red Bull Salzburg.
Big enough to admit his own first impressions were wrong, the German knew there was still plenty of others who had yet to be convinced when he splashed out £34million.
‘Maybe people thought “I am not sure he is worth it”, but we were 100 per cent sure about him,’ Klopp told the BBC earlier this year.
That confidence has been vindicated, and some, by Mane’s performances over the past four years.
He has moved seamlessly from one wing to the other, starting out on the right before being converted to the left at the beginning of the 2017-18 campaign in anticipation of Philippe Coutinho’s departure for Barcelona.
From 13 goals in his first season, came 20 in all competitions in his second following his transformation. That jumped to 26 in 2018-19.
Last season there was just the 20 goals again, but his contribution from all areas vastly improved, his assists hitting double figures for the first time at Liverpool as he laid on 11 goals.
His performances against Liverpool for Southampton stuck in the mind of all at Anfield
It is that constant improvement and adaption within the team that make him a manager’s dream.
‘Consistency was the key and absolutely now what he is doing and how he performs is consistent,’ Klopp has previously said on his Senegalese sensation.
‘The level he performs at is unbelievable. He helps us massively. He is a complete player, offensively and defensively he works hard, he is really quick.
MANE AT LIVERPOOL
2016-17: Appearances: 29, Goals 13, Assists 8
2017-18: Appearances 44, Goals 20, Assists 9
2018-19: Appearances 50, Goals 26, Assists 5
2019-20: Appearances 47, Goals 22, Assists 12
2019-20: Appearances 3, Goals 2, Assists 0
*Includes all competitions
‘He came as a young boy and he grew up, matured here. That is normal in the time of his career when it was clear it would happen and we were lucky enough to be around while that happened.
‘Becoming a very good player to a world-class player, no doubt about that, and he is a winner on top of that.’
It is one thing for your manager to deliver that kind of appraisal. It is another entirely when the best player in the world sits up and takes notice.
Lionel Messi is among the the hordes of players, pundits and bosses to have their say on Mane in the past few years – most notably after the 2019 Ballon d’Or awards, where he suggested the Senegal frontman should have run him close for the top honour.
‘It’s a shame to see Mane finish in fourth place,’ Messi told Canal+ at the time.
‘But I think there have been a lot of great players this year. That’s why it was difficult to choose a particular player. But I chose Sadio Mane because he’s a player that I like.
‘Mane achieved a great year that was exceptional for the entire Liverpool team. That’s why I chose him.’
It’s also why Klopp continues to choose him. And why he will play a major role, yet again, if the Reds are to retain their Premier League title this season.
Liverpool’s No 10 will be key once more as they look to keep their grip on the top-flight crown