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Liverpool might finally miss Sadio Mané vs Real Madrid as Lionel Messi supremacy telling

Liverpool manager Jürgen Klopp is preparing for a Champions League knockout tie without Sadio Mané for the first time during his seven-year tenure at Anfield.


Up to this point in the season, claims that Liverpool has missed Sadio Mané following his move to Bayern Munich have been largely unfounded.


There’s a vast array of reasons for the Reds’ collapse this term — you can take your pick from injuries, morale, underinvestment, individual errors, questionable tactics and more — but Mané’s departure isn’t one of them.


On top of everything else, Darwin Núñez, the attacker Liverpool signed last summer in the wake of his transfer request, has scored more goals (11) than Mané had at this stage of last season (nine).


At last, though, there might be some truth to the narrative. As it gears up for a Champions League round of 16 tie against Real Madrid, Liverpool might wish it had a player who thrived on these big occasions.


Data shared by A Visual Game on Twitter shows that, as of 14 February, Mané boasts the sixth-best non-penalty scoring rate in the history of the Champions League knockout stages (among players with at least eight goals).

Former Bayern striker Mario Gómez is the surprise leader on 0.73 non-penalty goals per 90 minutes, ahead of Cristiano Ronaldo (0.72) and Paris Saint-Germain’s Kylian Mbappé (0.69).


Mané’s average of 0.61 places him above Lionel Messi, who ranks second all-time for goals in Europe’s premier club competition (129).


Liverpool, then, has lost a certified big-game player who has produced a number of iconic moments.


Mané scored in the 3-0 victory in the home leg of the 2017/18 quarter-final against Manchester City, one of the great Jürgen Klopp performances, and also found the net in both legs of the semifinal against Roma before equalizing in the showpiece match-up with Real Madrid in Kyiv.


A season later, he would score a brace at the Allianz Arena as Liverpool picked up one of its best-ever away wins against Bayern and, last term, he scored in three straight matches to help Liverpool progress from the last eight to the final.

With Mané gone, then, who else can Liverpool look to?

Well, it might surprise you, but Roberto Firmino has actually managed to score at an even higher rate, ranking fifth all-time (a fraction ahead of Mané on 0.62 per 90).


Firmino, who may start or come off the bench depending on the severity of the shoulder injury Núñez suffered against Newcastle United, gave Liverpool a victory away to Manchester City in 2018 after the hosts threatened to mount a comeback, and then hit two of his side’s five in the first semifinal meeting with Roma.


He would have sent Liverpool into the last eight in 2019/20 after an extra-time goal gave it a 2-1 aggregate lead over Atlético Madrid, but errors from Adrián at the other end put paid to that.


Then, last season, Firmino crucially broke the deadlock away to Inter Milan in the round of 16 first leg, before scoring two goals in the second leg of the last-eight tie against Benfica to see his side through.


What about Mohamed Salah? The Egyptian is a considerable way behind the other members of the iconic front three on 0.4 npg per 90, but still sits inside the overall top 20, between PSG’s Neymar (0.41) and Real Madrid legend Raúl (0.39).


Salah’s position is still excellent — Thierry Henry and Wayne Rooney are barely ahead on 0.41 and 0.42 respectively — but a player of his caliber will want more.


Sadio Mané of Liverpool (Image: Photo by Silvestre Szpylma/Quality Sport Images/Getty Images)

In his historic debut season, he played a leading role in the Reds’ run to the final, scoring five times in six knockout ties en route, but in the four full campaigns since, he’s only added three non-penalty goals to his tally.


It’s only Núñez’s second Champions League campaign, meanwhile, but his first was very promising indeed.


The Uruguayan scored the winning goal in Benfica’s round of 16 clash with Ajax before he famously beat Alisson in both legs of the quarter-final versus Liverpool.


And that just leaves Diogo Jota, who hasn’t managed to score in 10 knockout appearances since he moved to Liverpool in 2020, despite starting six of them. He’s likely to be an impact sub against Real, and will resume his search for a personal milestone.


For the first time under Klopp, Liverpool won’t be able to call upon Mané for a Champions League knockout match. Having now rejoined team training after injury, he’ll instead be preparing for the second leg of Bayern’s encounter with PSG.


As his former club tries to gain revenge on Real Madrid, it needs another hero to emerge to adequately fill the void left by the iconic left winger.


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