Sadio Mane, arguably one of Europe’s most feared strike threats, heads to Madrid on Saturday with Liverpool supporters hoping his next return to the Spanish capital is not of a more permanent variety.
Mohamed Salah and Roberto Firmino remained major factors in Liverpool’s progression to a second successive Champions League final with Tottenham this weekend.
However, it was, arguably, the improved clinical goalscoring touch shown by the Senegal forward since the turn of the year that carried Jurgen Klopp’s side through to the all-English final and helped them push Manchester City to the finishing line in a record-breaking title chase.
That led, perhaps inevitably, to rumours leaked in the Spanish press this week that, after visiting Atletico Madrid’s Wanda Metropolitano home on Saturday, Mane could be returning to the city to ply his trade.
Real, well versed in the dark arts of leaking stories to their domestic media to test the transfer waters and, in some instances, unsettle players, are reportedly on the trail of the Liverpool forward, who remains flattered, but is insistent he has no interest in such a move... for this week, at least.
“This is part of football, so we have to deal with it,” said Mane.
But for me, the more important thing is that I am with Liverpool and I am very happy here, and I am preparing for one of the club’s biggest games.
“Let’s focus on this first, and on winning it. It’s always a pleasure for this kind of team to want you, but Liverpool, don’t forget, we beat big teams.”
The chances of Liverpool winning it will be greatly enhances if Mane retains the astonishing touch he displayed since the start of 2019, with 17 goals coming in 24 matches.
Reports of Salah’s ‘decline’, after his prodigious efforts in 2017-18, were greatly exaggerated, but it has been that goalscoring streak from Mane that has stood out over the second half of the season, culminating in the impressive two-goal performance in Liverpool’s 3-1, second leg, quarter-final win at Bayern Munich.
Saturday’s final offers Mane, among others, the chance to atone for the disappointments of 12 months ago, and exorcise the memory of standing at Kiev airport in the aftermath of the Real defeat, contemplating a missed opportunity.
“Yeah, of course,” said Mane, who scored Liverpool’s goal against Real. “We were a little bit disappointed last year, because we wanted to win it, but it wasn’t the case. That’s part of football, but at the same time, it’s important to be positive. Many people, even you (the media), didn’t expect us to play in this final, and we did it, so now I think we have learned a lot from this, and I hope we’re going to use our experience this season to get to where we want to be.”
A more recent disappointment has also helped inspire Liverpool after their 97 league-point tally proved insufficient to beat Manchester City to the title, despite it being the third highest ever recorded in the Premier League era.
“We’re so positive in our way,” said Mane. “We have our targets, of course. We wanted to win the league, and the Champions League.
“We didn’t win the league, but we still have one trophy to go, so we are going to try to give everything to win it.”
Following three weeks’ rest, Mane is looking for Liverpool to have the edge over a Spurs side that was plagued by injury concerns over the season’s final weeks.
“It refreshed everyone, said Mane of that break. “Everyone, and we understand how things go in football. It’s a different competition at the same time, but we are fortunate that we know how to deal with this kind of situation, and we had a few days and a few weeks to prepare for the game, which is a pressure game, and we will go there with fresh legs.
“Every time it makes it easier, but we expect a very difficult game, because Tottenham are a very good team.”