There was just no stopping Sadio Mane the last time Liverpool went to Stamford Bridge.
It was right at the beginning of last season, a real statement of intent from the reigning champions that they wouldn’t be surrendering their title without a fight.
Mane’s performance against Chelsea that day was absolutely outstanding, encapsulating every quality the Senegal forward has in his locker.
Sadio Mane jumps for joy after scoring for Liverpool at Chelsea last season in a 2-0 victory
The Senegal forward opens the scoring at Stamford Bridge last season with an athletic header
Mane was also wrestled to the ground by Andreas Christensen, leading to a sending off
It was Mane brought down by an Andreas Christensen rugby tackle as he raced clear on goal, leading to the VAR-aided red card that swung the game towards Liverpool.
Then two goals in four minutes just after half-time settled it. The way Mane peeled off Reece James to meet Roberto Firmino’s cross with an athletic header was top class.
And his dedication to the cause was demonstrated by the furious pressing of Kepa Arrizabalaga that forced a botched clearance and Liverpool’s second.
How Jurgen Klopp will hope Mane can produce something similar when they head back to the Bridge on Sunday in a meeting of title contenders neither can afford to lose.
It’s inconceivable that Mane won’t feature in Klopp’s starting line-up against Chelsea. After all, this is the last opportunity he will have to play him, Mohamed Salah and Naby Keita for a few weeks because of the Africa Cup of Nations.
Mane rues a missed chance in Liverpool’s defeat at Leicester as his goal drought continued
Jurgen Klopp will certainly be concerned one of his principal strikers hasn’t scored in nine
Mane’s barren run has coincided with Liverpool slipping well behind Man City in the title race
But there is certainly some pressure on Mane’s place amid a nine-match goal drought that has equalled his longest barren spell for Liverpool.
Mane hasn’t found the net since opening the scoring in the 4-0 win over Arsenal back on November 20 and there are signs his confidence is low.
The chance he put over the bar when through in Tuesday’s 1-0 defeat at Leicester, just a few minutes before Ademola Lookman settled the game, showed a player not quite in the groove.
For Klopp, Mane’s poor run couldn’t have come at a worse time. After finding the net regularly during the early part of the season – he has nine goals overall – Mane has stopped scoring during a congested and pivotal time in the campaign.
With Manchester City in imperious form, marching away at the top of the table and leaving both Liverpool and Chelsea in their wake, moments such as Mane’s miss at Leicester are crucial.
Mane and Mohamed Salah are about to head off to Cameroon for the Africa Cup of Nations
Mane missed a gilt-edged chance at the King Power Stadium as he struggles to find the net
Games Mane could miss while at AFCON
Premier League unless stated
January 6 Arsenal (A)
EFL Cup semi-final, first leg
January 9 Shrewsbury Town (H)
FA Cup third round
January 13 Arsenal (H)
EFL Cup semi-final, second leg
January 16 Brentford (H)
January 23 Crystal Palace (A)
February 5-6 Possible FA Cup fourth round tie
It was only Liverpool’s second defeat of the season but they suddenly find themselves 12 points behind Pep Guardiola’s side after that late win at Arsenal on New Year’s Day.
Of course, one or both of Chelsea and Liverpool will drop points on Sunday. Liverpool retain two games in hand but the margin is already daunting.
With two principal goal threats in Mane and Salah heading off to Cameroon for the AFCON, Klopp will be concerned.
It’s all quite reminiscent of last season, when Mane also went nine games without scoring in all competitions during November and December.
In fairness, Liverpool didn’t drop too many points but it coincided with a period when City were pretty much invincible, opening up a telling gap at the top.
Back then, Mane ended his drought by scoring in a 7-0 rout of Crystal Palace that resembled a turkey shoot before sulking after being taken off for Salah on 57 minutes. Chelsea won’t be as accommodating this weekend.
But one good omen is Mane’s record against the Blues. In 18 encounters playing for Southampton and then Liverpool, he has netted seven times. Only against Palace, Arsenal and Aston Villa does he have a better record.
A repeat of last season’s result at Stamford Bridge would keep Liverpool clinging onto City’s coattails. A goal or two for Mane would serve as a huge confidence boost.
Mane ended a similar goal drought last season by scoring in a 7-0 win over Crystal Palace
If he goes a 10th game without finding the net, then Klopp will hope he can rediscover his scoring touch out in Cameroon.
They have certainly made an effort to boost his confidence with a member of Liverpool’s video analysis team putting together a compilation of Mane highlights.
The aim was to convince Mane he is still contributing plenty to the team effort even if the finishing isn’t there at the moment.
‘Pretty much all strikers have to go through these kind of things. It happened to Sadio before and he came out of it,’ said Klopp.
Mane smiles in training last week as Liverpool prepare for the trip to Stamford Bridge
Senegal are third-favourites behind Algeria and Egypt to lift the trophy and face Guinea, Malawi and Zimbabwe in the group. You’d be surprised if Mane doesn’t score.
If Senegal go all the way, the final is on February 6, meaning he wouldn’t return to Liverpool duty until the game against Leicester four days later.
Mane may well return with his scoring touch restored. The question is whether Liverpool will still be counted as title challengers by then.
But it isn’t too late for Mane to sign off with a valuable contribution against opponents he enjoys playing against.