The Senegal international delivered for Liverpool in Istanbul but the towering Chelsea forward still can’t get the rub of the green for the Blues
There just seems to be something about Liverpool and penalty shootouts in Istanbul, isn’t there?
It was in the Turkish city, at the Ataturk Olympic Stadium; the six-time European champions triumphed in one of the most famous Champions League finals in history, defeating AC Milan 3-2 on penalties in 2005 after coming from 3-0 down at half-time to equalize 3-3 in a dramatic six-minute spell.
While there wasn’t quite as much drama at Vodafone Park on Wednesday night, the encounter saw Jurgen Klopp’s side claim a European double, by adding the Super Cup to their latest Champions League success in June.
The game was a contrasting tale for two forwards on either side, with Sadio Mane proving his worth for the Merseyside outfit with a brace, while Tammy Abraham ended the night as the culpable party in the 5-4 shootout loss, after their teams played out to a 2-2 draw following an exhilarating 120 minutes of play.
In all fairness, the towering Chelsea forward shouldn’t bear the full brunt for the team’s defeat by their long-standing rivals. Admittedly, he didn’t have the perfect game after replacing Olivier Giroud in the 74th minute, but his performance wasn’t entirely riddled with negatives, as has been painted.
He was the one who won the penalty in extra-time – which Jorginho converted – only six minutes after Mane had sent the pre-game favourites 2-1 up, showed some nice touches to link-up play and was fairly successful in his duels.
After the year he had at Aston Villa last season (he scored 25 goals in 37 games), many were excited about his chances of breaking into a Blues’ side that had Olivier Giroud and Michy Batshuayi as striker options.
It hasn’t panned out favourably early doors, with the post denying the poacher in the West London club’s 4-0 defeat at the hands of Manchester United on Sunday, missing a really presentable opportunity to likely win the game against Liverpool in extra-time, before failing to convert his spot-kick in the penalty shootout which decided the encounter.
What makes it slightly worrying is the fact that many of Abraham’s goals last season were either tap-ins or penalties, so his inability to put away what he, largely, thrived at with Villa is bothering. On the other hand, the forward also missed a staggering 19 big chances in the previous campaign, which evidently shows he missed almost as nearly as he scored.
More perturbing, though, is the reluctance or unpreparedness to make runs into goalscoring positions or support runs to help teammates. It was obvious against United in their league opener when he failed to anticipate a cut-back into the box by making a late dash beyond United’s centre-backs and when he failed to make the right run against Liverpool to help Ross Barkley on a Chelsea counter-attack.
Be that as it may, the season is still in its early stages and it will be unfair to start criticizing the 21-year-old too harshly. One imagines Frank Lampard will give him the “keep getting into goalscoring positions” speech from time to time, because an unwillingness to do will then signify a larger issue.
On the other hand was Mane, scorer of a brace for Klopp’s side, who picked up right where he left off at the end of last season. The Senegal international was making his first start for the Merseyside outfit since their 2-0 victory over Tottenham Hotspur in the Champions League final June and didn’t look out of place.
Or maybe he did… for a while in the first-half owing to Klopp’s tactics.
The German tactician’s decision to play Mane in the central attacking role, with Alex Oxlade Chamberlain and Mohamed Salah either side, backfired as the Reds rarely got going in attack in the opening 45 minutes, going in 1-0 behind.
While it was a theme for a period last season, to play either Salah or the Senegalese in the centre, it clearly wasn’t working against Lampard’s troops and the manager recognized that and introduced Roberto Firmino – who then got two assists – at the interval for Chamberlain.
It wasn’t until Mane’s return to the left that he started to really trouble the Blues’ defence, and he only needed two minutes after the restart to equalize for his side. The forward who, before the game, claimed he hadn’t had a holiday in the last seven years was a beneficiary of Klopp’s tweak. Whereas, before the alteration, he had been playing like a man who needed a breather.
If his first goal had a hint of luck, his second in the fifth minute of extra-time was top class and it left Kepa Arrizabalaga with absolutely no chance in goal. Mane, now on a hat-trick, was clearly up for the game and likely fancied his chances against Cesar Azpilicueta, so it was no surprise he looked upset when taken off just after Jorginho equalized for 2-2 in the 101st minute.
If there were worries about last season’s 22-goal man showing signs of weariness and disappointment after his Africa Cup of Nations heartbreak in the summer, he’s dispelled those notions on his first start and will be out to thrive yet again this year.
While Abraham can’t seem to get going in a Chelsea shirt at the moment, Mane seems to have picked up right where he left off last term, as he seeks to banish his Afcon pain by chasing success with Liverpool on all fronts this season.