Sadio Mane Talks Playing No. 9, Jokes About Ronaldo Comparisons Ahead of Everton

Matt JonesFeatured ColumnistMarch 1, 2019

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 27: Sadio Mane of Liverpool celebrates after scoring his team's first goal during the Premier League match between Liverpool FC and Watford FC at Anfield on February 27, 2019 in Liverpool, United Kingdom. (Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)
Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

Liverpool forward Sadio Mane joked he was braced for criticism from his team-mates when he found out he was playing as a centre-forward in the recent Premier League clash with Watford.

With Roberto Firmino absent due to injury, Reds boss Jurgen Klopp made the surprise decision to start Mane at the point of the attack with Divock Origi and Mohamed Salah in wider positions. The Senegal international thrived, netting the opening two goals in a 5-0 win.

Speaking about the tactical tweak, Mane said he had been warned he needed to perform well as a centre-forward, or he would be on the receiving end of some light-hearted stick, per Rory O'Callaghan of Sky Sports:

"Before the game the coach called me and said, 'OK, we are going to make some changes. Sadio, you have to play No. 9.' I said 'Oh!', and I looked at my team-mates. … I was laughing and I said, 'We are a team, so you have to trust me!'

"They were all laughing at me, but I said, 'From today, call me Ronaldo or Firmino!' Gini [Wijnaldum] said: 'You have to score. If you score, we'll call you Ronaldo. If not, you're s--t!'"

After the game, Klopp was full of praise for the former Southampton man:

Neil Jones @neiljonesgoal

Klopp on Mane. "We all know he is a world class player, and now he realises that himself. He's a good boy, he had these skills but for goalscoring you need these moments and a bit of luck. He always had the quality, even if he doesn't score, he gives us the space to score." #LFC

Thankfully for Mane and Liverpool the experiment worked well for the Reds, as they dealt with a potentially tricky opponent with ease.

After Mane shined as a striker, it will now be intriguing to see how Klopp sets his team up on Sunday, as the Reds travel across Stanley Park to take on local rivals Everton. Ahead of the game, the Liverpool boss said Firmino is in contention to start the game against the Toffees, per the club's official website.

There doesn't appear to be any necessity to rush the Brazilian back, though, especially since Mane played with such verve on Wednesday.

Per Sky Sports Statto, already the forward is enjoying his most prolific season in English football's top flight:

Sky Sports Statto @SkySportsStatto

⚽ Sadio Mane's PL goals season-by season 2018-19 14 goals 2017-18 10 2016-17 13 2015-16 11 2014-15 10 https://t.co/TsaOrBM92e

The fact Klopp can call upon Mane to play at the point of the attack is a big bonus and indicative of the quality he has available in forward areas.

While his speed and skill are so often highlighted, he's also clever in his movement, pulling opposition defenders into areas where they don't want to go. It's something Liverpool writer Joel Rabinowitz commented on during the Watford win:

Joel Rabinowitz @joel_archie

Mane's movement and linkup play playing as a no.9 has been superb. Rarely ever plays that role for Liverpool, but makes it look so natural.

Given they will be playing away from home and against a motivated Everton side, there is every chance Klopp shuffles his attack again at Goodison Park.

Even so, this season Mane has been one of the liveliest players in the Premier League and has shown that regardless of where he lines up on the field, he has the ability to make a big impact on a game.