Defeat to Real Madrid in the Champions League final had barely sunk in by the time Jurgen Klopp was faced with his next issue as Liverpool boss. In the hours that followed the Reds’ loss in Paris, it emerged Mane desires a transfer away from Anfield this summer with Bayern Munich one potion till suitor for the Senegalese winger. His Liverpool career might be over.
Mane has been an integral part of one of the best front threes ever to have played the game. He arrived on Merseyside from Southampton in 2016 as a mercurial winger, but is now one of the sharpest wide forwards around. This is illustrated by his record of 120 goals and 48 assists in 269 games for Liverpool.
The potential departure of Mane has prompted discussion over who Liverpool could target to replace him. However, Klopp needs to replace another member of his attack before he gets to finding a successor for Mane. Indeed, Liverpool must sign a successor for Roberto Firmino this summer.
Firmino started just 10 Premier League fixtures last season as the likes of Luis Diaz and Diogo Jota jumped ahead of him in the pecking order. Injuries were also an issue for a large part of the 2021/22 campaign. Nonetheless, it shouldn’t be forgotten how Firmino changed the way many think about the role of a centre forward.
While Firmino’s scoring record for Liverpool (98 goals in 327 appearances) is respectable, it is not the most impressive among those boasted by the current attackers in the Anfield dressing room. However, without Firmino’s work across the frontline it’s unlikely Mane and Mohamed Salah would have charted such large numbers in recent seasons.
Mane and Salah have benefited greatly from the presence of Firmino alongside them for Liverpool. The Brazilian is among the very best at creating space, dropping deep into midfield to link up play. He opens up opposition teams by forcing defenders into uncomfortable positions. Firmino is the one who pushes and pulls them out of position.
Without Firmino in the team, Liverpool would have found it much trickier to break down low defensive blocks under Klopp. The Reds are renowned for being devastating in quick transition, but they are also exceptional at picking their way through a packed defence. This is due to the influence of Firmino.
Even as Mane has played as a number nine this season, he has taken cues from Firmino in the way he operates in the role. The Senegalese winger has the instinct to drop deep and drift wide to pull opposition defenders away from their territory. One wonders if Firmino has effectively coached Mane in many of these methods.
Klopp has always resisted the notion that Liverpool need an orthodox number nine and has instead favoured players like Firmino who appreciate and understand the value of space on a football pitch. It’s an attitude that has shaped Liverpool over the last six years. They play the game a little differently and the results are clear to see.
Players like Firmino are difficult to find, but this is why Liverpool must make finding a long-term successor for the Brazilian a priority. At 30-year-old is fading as a physical force. Even if Firmino could avoid injuries for a prolonged period, he would be unable to play every minute of every match like he was able to just a few seasons ago.
Liverpool have been shrewd in the construction of their current squad. When they sold Philippe Coutinho for a club record fee, they didn’t seek a replacement, but players that would strengthen the team as a whole. They could be faced with a similar scenario if Mane leaves Anfield this summer.