Liverpool’s decision to move the Sengalese legend on came in for criticism earlier in the season but in recent months, the blueprint for the Reds’ future has become clear.
When Sadio Mané departed Anfield last summer, it would be fair to say that it felt like the beginning of the end of an era for Liverpool supporters. The Senegalese forward departed Merseyside as a modern-day legend and it was clear that his trophy-laden spell would be a very tough act to follow.
In truth, in the early months following Darwin Núñez’s arrival from Benfica, the Uruguayan initially struggled to emulate the man he replaced. A combination of the team’s general malaise following the emotional and physical toll of the tilt at a quadruple in the previous campaign and stylistic issues meant that the $79m (£64m/€72m) signing struggled to perform to the levels that he had produced in Portugal during the early months of his spell.
It is worth noting, however, that Mané has certainly not had it all his own way in Germany since his summer switch, with this no-less apparent than at the weekend when he was withdrawn from the action at half-time in a 2-1 home defeat against Bayer Leverkusen. The forward started well at the Allianz Arena, scoring 11 times in 23 games, but a cruel fibula inflammation injury on the eve of the World Cup in December would see him miss the tournament, and keep him out of action until late February. On top of this, the Senegal talisman has struggled to replicate his early-season form and is without a goal in five outings since his return.
His woes following his return to fitness have been compounded by criticism of his playing style, amid accusations in an extensive report from Sport1 journalist Kerry Hau that the 30-year-old has lacked the ‘speed and explosiveness’ that he became characterized by at Anfield, with his ability when the team is in possession also coming in for scrutiny. According to him, Bayern Munich’s coaching staff and club executives have been disappointed with Mané’s contributions so far this season, with the former Kop-favorite considered to be ‘losing too many one-on-on duels’, which has been a ‘consistent issue during training sessions’.
Hau stated in his piece that Mané has been an awkward fit for Julian Nagelsmann’s side, with his perceived lack of suitability in a couple of positions making him look like a ‘foreign body’ for the German champions. He explained: “Mané looks visibly uncomfortable, like a foreign body, as he has far less space in possession of the ball [on the left wing]. He is also lost in the center-forward position, and also often runs offside (18 times in 18 Bundesliga games).”
When one compares his fortunes with that of Núñez, the Senegalese superstar may have been more impressive initially following his move to the Bundesliga but it would be fair to say that the tables have turned in 2023. There is no doubt that Mané has been hampered by injury and, if his exploits at Liverpool are anything to go by, he will eventually turn around negative perceptions of his abilities, but the impact of his replacement at Anfield as part of a new-look front three in recent weeks does suggest that Jürgen Klopp may have made a couple of correct calls in the summer.
Of course, in registering 18 goals and assists in only 2,020 minutes of football for Klopp’s side so far this term, Núñez’s first season has been far from a failure. That said, it would be fair to suggest that his best performances have come during this calendar year, with the Uruguayan hotshot being a major component in Liverpool’s recent relative resurgence in form. The Reds are third in the form table for the last six games, demonstrating a real improvement, and the forward has registered five goal involvements in this period in the five games he has been available for.