Sadio Mane proves again why he is Liverpool’s main man in title-winning campaign

Title in the bag, drawing 0-0 to Aston Villa at home – you'd have been forgiven for wondering if Liverpool had already checked out for the season.

After the sheer intensity of their week-by-week dominance of the Premier League season, it was perhaps not surprising they fell to a heavy defeat at Man City.

Nor that they struggled to break down Villa for 70 minutes of the clash at Anfield on Sunday.

However like for much of this season, the Reds were once again able to call on Sadio Mane.

Until this season you could argue the Senegalese forward was the lesser acclaimed of Liverpool's much-revered front three.

Roberto Firmino, the conductor, and Mohamed Salah, the goal machine, often gain the plaudits, but this year has been Mane's time.

It seems strange to say about a striker who shared last season's Golden Boot, but for many Mane would previously have been the first to face the axe if Liverpool fans were made to choose.

This season has been different though.

Mane has consistently come up with the goods at the right time, and did so again when Liverpool looked to be drawing a blank against Villa.

When Naby Keita fed a pass back into the box for his teammate, there was only ever going to be one outcome.

The ball was on a plate for him, admittedly, and Mane got a helping hand from the crossbar, but it was just another sign of his penchant for cropping up at the right moments.

It was the same when the Reds travelled to Villa Park in November, as Mane's 90th-minute goal earned all three points.

Similarly late efforts followed at Norwich and West Ham when the title pressure was beginning to show.

Crucial goals at crucial times.

Not to mention the third goal in the home tie with City to put the game to bed, and his starring role against Everton in a much-changed Liverpool team.

Sunday's strike at Villa carried a lot less significance to Liverpool's fortunes, save for their quest for the record Premier League points total, but nevertheless Mane's contribution was still invaluable.

Over the course of a season he has gone from perhaps being the least-fancied of Liverpool's frontline to becoming arguably the most important.

Sky Sports pundit Graeme Souness thinks as much, and said: "He's a warrior. It's hard to think of something [an attribute] he hasn't got.

"I think he'd be an absolute dream to work with."

Of course Souness is just among those to hold Mane in high regard, with Lionel Messi's vote for the forward to win FIFA's Best Player award well documented.

But even since then Mane has stepped it up a notch.

Tireless running in both directions. Creativity in abundance. A desire to succeed, but always putting the team first.

Most of all he's been dependable, and often the man to spark some magic in Liverpool or pull a rabbit out the hat at the vital times – a key sign of a top class player.

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While the Golden Boot may allude him this time round, this is now the third season in a row he's scored 20 goals or more in all competitions.

And while one individual honour slips from his grasp, another could be on the horizon.

There has been plenty of clamour for Jordan Henderson to win the Player of the Year award – and rightly so.

But even Liverpool's captain wouldn't be aggrieved to see Mane pip him to the trophy and claim what he deserves – no doubt at just the right moment too.

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