Sadio Mane or Henrikh Mkhitaryan - Did Liverpool get the right player?
With Mario Gotze seemingly committing his future to Bayern Munich, Liverpool were forced to go after their secondary marquee signing, Sadio Mane. The winger’s move to Liverpool hasn’t been void of criticism however, with many fans aggravated by the price, his Southampton lineage and his inconsistency. With Manchester United acquiring the services of Henrikh Mkhitaryan for substantially less, the complaints only increased in potency. In the end, did we get the right player?
The cost of Mane is a culmination of the time remaining on his contract (3 years), his overall product over the past two years (25 goals in 75 appearances), his age (24 years old) and the prestige of being a Premier League player. Mkhitaryan had one year remaining on his contract and is three years his senior at 27, plying his trade with Borussia Dortmund.
The overpricing, I believe, is due to inflation in the transfer market and teams now paying for probability; how “good” a young player might become and not their current development (think £49 million for 20-year-old Raheem Sterling). Although his price may limit Liverpool’s budget to purchase other players, it is likely that the sale of other players (Christian Benteke, Joe Allen and others) will recoup the funds necessary to purchase other targets. The major issue is the quality and output of the two players; but is our comparison justified?
Liverpool do not have a packed schedule next season
With no European football for the Reds next season, it was unlikely that the Dortmund talisman would have joined up them. To complicate matters, he was unable to fully adapt to Jurgen Klopp’s playing style, struggling during Jurgen’s last year in charge.
Dortmund’s new coach, Thomas Tuchel, implemented a Gegenpressing prototype, which saw Dortmund deploy a more calculated approach to their gameplay. With possession and positioning a focal point and the tempo of their gameplay slightly reduced, Henrikh thrived throughout the season with 11 goals and 15 assists in the Bundesliga.
His pass accuracy of 75.7% is due to his gameplay, a playmaker with great vision and the ability to find his teammates across several areas of the pitch (82 chances created in the league alone). His dribbling and movement often catalysed Dortmund’s attacks last season and his final ball made him one of the most creative players in Europe.
One of his major assets is his ability to play in several positions in midfield (AMR, FWR, FWL, AML, AMC, ML, MR and MC were the positions he was deployed in last season), a trait which may make him a key player of Mourinho’s next season.
His major strength, however, is his fantastic footballing mind, which allows him to adapt his gameplay to his position to destructive effect. When not supplying his teammates, his runs allow him to score goals, adding further dimension to his game; he averaged 2.6 shots per game at a shot accuracy of 48%.
With 21 goals and 20 chances for club and country, Manchester United have attained the services of one of the best players in Europe; and at £26 million to top it off. He was surrounded by the likes of Emerick Aubameyang, Marco Reus and Ilkay Gundogan however, and with a period of adjustment in a new environment on its way, time will tell if this form is replicated.
A different prospect than Mkhitaryan
Liverpool fans know Mane well. He’s been a key player for the Saints when up against us, pivotal in their 3-2 comeback in May. The winger deploys a different style of play to the Armenian, using his pace and dribbling skill to get past players. His movement allows him to open up defences, often pulling players towards him to provide space for the Southampton strikers.
His number of assists (6 for the season, 41 chances created) may seem paltry in comparison, but this may be due to the manner in which he was deployed. Mane may not be directly involved in Southampton’s goals but his influence on the play, either by positioning or winning the ball is impressive. His pressing occurs high up the pitch, forcing teams into defensive mistakes or spurring counter attacks.
He’s a more direct player than Mkhitaryan, playing more as a winger than Henrikh, who’s a high playing AMC. He isn’t the finished article, however, as his end product isn’t as consistent in comparison (8 of his goals came towards the end of the season). He had a pass accuracy of 81% and had 2.3 shots a game with a shot accuracy of 52%.
The frustration of Red fans are plausible seeing the comparisons, and the main issue is not that we didn’t get Mkhitaryan (we have Philippe Coutinho, Roberto Firmino and Adam Lallana in his position), but that we couldn’t get a player of a higher calibre than Sadio.
What we must not forget, is that Liverpool are currently unable to attract proven talent. Furthermore, buying proven players is not in the manager’s transfer style. Klopp believes that a football manager is a coach first, and buying proven stars without proper coaching can be detrimental.
This is why Mane is the perfect fit. He’s fairly young, already accustomed to the Premier League and is at a pivotal stage in his development; factors which Klopp can work with. He also fills a void which Liverpool haven’t adequately filled since Sterling’s departure: a pacey winger with the ability to run in behind defences. Anfield is awash with players capable of producing what Mkhitaryan can but had no one with the pace to run at or behind defences. Lastly, his high pressing style and work rate are perfect for the German’s playing style, and if all goes well, he should blossom at the Kop.
In the end, though pricey, Mane was a good buy; a player bought for a philosophy and not just for the end product. That’s the key point in this debate. The fact that Mane was Klopp’s buy, makes him the M that Liverpool might need moving forward.