Are We Underestimating Mané’s Season?

Are We Underestimating Mané’s Season?
April 14, 2022 Mizgan Masani

 

There has been a mixed response to the way Sadio Mané has played his season for Liverpool so far. The Senegal international has scored 16 goals and provided one assist in all competitions in 39 games, while lifting the Carabao Cup with the club. His international season has gone rather well – where a period between January and March saw him garnering two major achievements (the AFCON win and World Cup Qualification).

If we look at his season on a monthly basis starting from August, December was the only month where he neither contributed with a goal or an assist. Other than that, he has scored important goals in the league and Europe most times. Out of his 13 league goals, eight of them have been either game-leading or game-clinching or game-equalising. He scored home and away against Manchester City, the latter one being potentially a key goal in the title run-in.

In terms of assists, the 30-year-old has only one assist in the league, his expected assist (xA) value is around three (2.95). To put this into context, players with an xA value as much as three do rope in four to five assists at the minimum. These are not returns of a player who is having an “off season”.

Let’s look at Mané’s stats in more detail to further dissect his performances this season and also during the course of the last 12 months in the Premier League.

Sadio Mané v PL forwards (2021/22)

This section will deal with providing some data viz comparing Mané with other Premier League forwards on basic metrics related to goals, assists and shots. Players with 600+ minutes played in the league are taken into account for the visuals.

With 0.5 non-penalty goals per 90, Mané is going with a more than decent rate of a goal every two games. His expected non-penalty goal value is 0.57 per 90. So, if his finishing go up to lethal levels, we may expect goals at a better rate from him.

The 30-year-old is only behind Mohamed Salah, Diogo Jota, Jamie Vardy and Son Heung-min  in non-penalty goals per 90 (two of whom are his teammates). It isn’t bad going!

Jota meanwhile has the best returns of non-penalty goals per 90 in the league. (cue “oh he wears number 20” tune please!)

As we touched upon in the introductory section, Mané’s assist numbers are underperforming against the expected values. Hence, his goals+assists per 90 (0.54) is lesser than the expected returns (0.71).

To contextualise it, Son has non-penalty expected goals + assists rate of 0.72, but his actual goals + assists rate is 0.86. So, on expected terms, Mané is having a season comparable to the South Korean.

Salah with 20 goals and 11 assists topping the chart like no other (crazy to think people have forgotten him after a few average games).

Mané’s shot attempt average is over three per 90 (3.24), with close to 37% accuracy levels. His goals per shot value is 0.15, meaning every sixth shot of his is going in. Therefore, he is running at a goal every two league games this season.

Son, who is second in the race of Golden Boot race behind Salah, has an impressive shot accuracy level of 51.5%, even with shots attempt rate at 2.54 and a fantastic goals per shot value of 0.25. Every fourth shot of his is ending up in the back of the net. Hence, he is plying at two goals every three games.

Comparison Klaxon – ft. Sadio Mané v Diogo Jota

This is an in-team comparison of two players who play two similar positions for Liverpool. Jota can play as a number 9 or on the left wing, while Mané is now attuned to playing as a number 9 along with his customary left-wing position.

Courtesy Understat

In goals and xG terms, Jota is edging ahead of Mané, but in the xGBuildup, the latter is ahead. They are quite similar in shots, xGChain and assist numbers.

For reference – xGChain is the total xG of every possession the player is involved in. xGbuildup is the same as xGChain minus shots and key passes.

Keeping that in mind, the above plot shows Jota as a better goal threat with poacher instincts, while Mané is more involved in build-ups – irrespective of whether he is playing as a 9 or wide. This is a very interesting development to the Senegalese’s game, something which Jurgen Klopp must have had in mind after signing Luis Diaz. To add to that, Mané has a better pressures success % than Jota (27.3 to Jota and 30.8 to Mané).

So, the type of number 9 Liverpool function best with, Mané could be that option if Roberto Firmino is not available. If in a game both Mané and Jota start, wouldn’t mind seeing the former as a 9 and latter on the wing.

Mané comparison season-on-season

This section will compare Mané’s numbers of this season with the last three seasons in the league. Basic metrics such as goals, assists, shots, ball recoveries, etc. are taken into account for this.

 

 

Goal-scoring numbers dropped last season, but it has picked up again this year and has the potential to go up to the levels of 18/19 and 19/20 (which was peak Mané). His expected numbers suggests improved finishing can take him there.

In terms of assists, he is back to 2018/19 levels, though his expected numbers tells that he should have more than what is there in the tally. The goals per shot metric has improved from last season, but still a bit away from 18/19 and 19/20 levels. He was more lethal in those seasons that is for certain.

The pressure success and ball recoveries are similar in these four years, showing his ever-willingness to work hard off the ball, be it as a forward or as a winger.

The dribble success has made a constant down turn since 2019/20, something which is quite visible to the eye as well. Probably one of the other reasons why Klopp wants him to play as a 9 now, more as a link man and goal-scorer, rather than a high-flying winger of two years ago.

Looking back at all the comparisons, stats, details, one can say that Sadio Mané is having a better season than most. While December was a bit of a dampener, the 30-year-old’s post-AFCON form has been very good. Moreover, he has the knack of scoring important game-state changing goals, which always makes him an important cog in the wheel.

I would expect him to get better for the remainder of the campaign and finish it on a high, hopefully with more club trophies on the way.

Data from FBRef and Understat

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