Liverpool star Sadio Mane had a lengthy interview published in the latest instalment of the club’s match-day programme. In it, the forward waxed lyrical about his team-mates, with Virgil van Dijk, Joe Gomez and Joel Matip in particular showered in plaudits.
Liverpool were forced to play out most of last season with the relatively inexperienced Nat Phillips and Rhys Williams as first-choice central defenders. Ozan Kabak’s arrival in January helped quell things a tad, but there was a noticeable drop-off in terms of defensive stability.
Gomez, van Dijk and Matip are now match-fit, with the latter two playing each of Liverpool’s first three games of the new season – and Mane couldn’t be happier to have them back.
“Obviously it was a big blow for us missing not only Virgil [van Dijk], but also Joel [Matip] and Joe Gomez last year,” the Senegal international said, as per Liverpoolfc.com.
“If you have these kind of players in your team and you’re missing them, then for sure you will feel it. I think any club in this world would feel the same.
“Now we are really happy to have them back and it’s been a good start to the season with these names on the backs of the shirts behind me!
“But we should also remember that the young lads like Nat [Phillips] and Rhys [Williams] who came in to deputise for these players last season did a great job too.”
Liverpool delved into the summer transfer market momentarily, prising Ibou Konate from RB Leipzig in a £36 million deal, offering some more defensive stability going forward. Mane revealed the young Frenchman was a pleasant surprise in training, stating it was like he had always been at the club.
“He is a very nice lad and from the first day he was with us I was really surprised because it was like he has been here for years,” the Reds No.10 said.
“With myself that was not the case because I am a bit shy, but he just came in and settled straightaway which is really important.
“You could see in pre-season that he was doing well from the start and we are really, really happy to have him. I feel that this year he will have a great season for Liverpool.”
Konate is yet to make his full Liverpool debut but did feature in some pre-season games over the summer and looked the part.
With van Dijk, Matip and Gomez fit and firing, the young Frenchman could be waiting a short while before he gets his chance – but there are no doubts over his quality.
Liverpool are in EFL Cup action toward the end of the month, facing off against fellow Premier League side Norwich City – where Kabak is now plying his trade – which should provide Konate with a chance if he still hasn’t made his debut by then.
The Reds will have to do it against the Canaries without a stadium filled to the brim with their own fans as the fixture is slated to be hosted on the East Coast. A repeat of the Premier League’s opener, which Liverpool won 3-0 at Carrow Road, would be ideal and it’s certainly something Mane believes the away support can help with – and something you’re able to take a punt on with Football Accas.
In his aforementioned interview, the forward labelled Reds supporters the best in the world and has tipped the twelfth man to boost the team toward their goals this term.
“As a footballer you always want to be playing, and playing against the best opponents, and also to go out there and win trophies,” Mane said.
“So it’s fantastic for me to be playing here, evolving within this big, legendary club with our amazing fans.
“Having our fans back in the stadium is an extra motivation because, like I have always said, the Liverpool fans are the best fans in the world.
“It was fantastic to play in front of a full Anfield again. Having them back can be massive for us and they can play a huge part in our success.”
We hadn’t seen a full Anfield since the beginning of the pandemic, Liverpool fans finally graced Anfield again last month as the Reds claimed a 2-0 win over a feisty Burnley. The lads couldn’t make it three wins from three, though, as Chelsea picked up a point on Merseyside the following week in a typically controversial outing for the two sides.
Liverpool are next in action on home soil next Wednesday as they play the role of hosts to Serie A juggernauts AC Milan, who will make their first-ever competitive appearance at Anfield.