LONDON: If Liverpool do succeed in winning the Premier League then one of the first players to seize the trophy should be Sadio Mane. The Senegalese is to the Reds this season what Mohamed Salah was to them last year.
Liverpool’s hopes of winning at Fulham to retain league leadership trembled midway through the second half in west London. Mane had scored their first-half goal and Liverpool, though far below their best, were in full charge. Then ex-Liverpool forward Ryan Babbel snatched a surprise equaliser.
Mane took command once more. He was fouled by keeper Sergio Rico for a penalty which James Milner converted to provide a 2:1 win which kept Liverpool two points clear of City, albeit Liverpool have played one game more and have an inferior goal difference (+52 compared with +58). Winning when below par can be the sign of a good team.
Manager Jurgen Klopp said: “We started really well but lost the rhythm a bit. I am not the most experienced manager and I have similar problems after Champions League games.
“First half a bit rusty. Second half we could have finished it off and then it is clear at 1:0 if you don’t kill it off that can happen. They deserved a goal but we deserved three points. A brilliant afternoon I have to say.
“I am not in any doubt about my players nerves. It is about intensity. We go for perfection but it is rare that you get it. Burnley, Munich, Fulham – you have to adapt. People will say we need to be more convincing but we are at the start of a development, not the end.”
As for Mane, the 26th-minute strike with which he opened the scoring was his ninth goal in nine league games, his 17th of the campaign and his 20th in all competitions. Those ‘other three’ include the brilliantly delicate piece of footwork which mesmerised Manuel Neuer in Liverpool’s midweek Champions League victory over FC Bayern in Munich.
Only Sergio Aguero (18) has scored more Premier League goals than Mane who is now level on 17 with Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Harry Kane and Salah.
Ronald Koeman was the man who brought Mane to English football when manager of Southampton. Saints paid £12m in 2014. Two years later they sold him to Liverpool for £34m. Now he is worth £100m. Southampton profited off the pitch but Liverpool – especially this season – are profiting on the pitch.
** Brighton reached the FA Cup semi-finals for the first time since 1983 by defeating second division Millwall 5-4 on penalties after recovering from 2-0 down to force extra time. The semi-finals at Wembley on April 6/7 matched Brighton against Manchester City and Watford play Wolves.
A further consequence is that Spurs’ first home match in their new stadium will be against Crystal Palace on April 3. Their second is against Manchester City in the Champions League on April 9.