For the vast majority of professional footballers, 11 goals by March is not a bad spot to be in.
For Sadio Mane, though? It’s the sign of a slow season.
The Senegalese forward has stuttered throughout a tricky season for Liverpool, and while he has still averaged a goal every three games, only one of those has come since the turn of the year.
The 2-0 win at Sheffield United was the 15th time in his 23 Premier League appearances that he has failed to score or register an assist this season. For a player who has set his standard by clearing 20 goals in each of his last three campaigns, he isn’t quite cutting the mustard this time around.
It doesn’t take a genius, statistician or behaviour analyst to see why. Mane’s drop off ties in directly with the issue that recently caused Liverpool to lose four league games in a row for the first time in 19 years.
It’s just confidence.
The Reds were much better at Bramall Lane than they had been in the weeks leading up to the game, but while they were able to stroll to a comfortable win over the Premier League’s basement side, their fragile mentality was still evident in their play.
There were long periods where it seemed Thiago was afraid to take risks. Mohamed Salah was constantly overplaying things, while Roberto Firmino was so far from his self-assured best that he attempted to square the ball to Mane in the first half when the finish was right in front of him.
There were huge improvements, of course. Trent Alexander-Arnold delivered perhaps his best performance of the season so far while Mane was far better, showing for the ball and causing problems with his movement in a way we haven’t seen from him since January’s win over Tottenham.
But the killer touch was still lacking.
Jurgen Klopp has bemoaned his side creating chances without finishing them, and in a game where Liverpool had 16 shots on goal but only scored twice, it seems their lack of belief in front of goal still needs some serious work.
A crisis of confidence is evidently at the root of their struggles. And while that’s not an easy problem to solve, the solution is at least clear and straightforward: fight through it, score goals and win games.
After a disastrous start to 2021 that has already seen them lose seven times, a better performance at Bramall Lane was a step in the right direction.
But the hard yards still lie ahead and there is plenty for the champions, and their Senegalese talisman, left to prove. If the first half of this season was no more than a costly blip, we need to see proof of that between now and May.