Sadio Mane has jumped out of Mohamed Salah's shadow to spearhead Liverpool challenge

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Sadio Mane and Mohamed Salah

Sadio Mane has grown used to playing second fiddle to Mohamed Salah in the two seasons since the latter joined the Senegalese at Liverpool.

However, the fact Jurgen Klopp’s men top the Premier League in their quest to end a 29-year wait to win the title and face Porto in the first leg of a Champions League quarter-final at Anfield on Tuesday, is largely thanks to Mane.

As Salah’s goals dried up in an eight-game drought prior to Friday’s 3-1 win at Southampton, Mane assumed the mantle as chief goal getter with 11 in his last 13 Liverpool appearances taking his tally for the season to 20.

That run included a double away to Bayern Munich last month that eased the five-time European champions past the German giants and eyeing another shot at Champions League glory.

His first goal in particular at the Allianz Arena was a demonstration in the 26-year-old’s pace, skill and calmness in front of goal.

Mane controlled a raking long pass from Virgil van Dijk, rounded Manuel Neuer and then dinked the ball into an unguarded net.

“I’m going to have to watch back 500 times,” admitted Klopp after the game. “It’s astounding what he did.”

Sadio Mane's opener against Bayern Munich

Sadio Mane’s opener against Bayern Munich

Mane scored 10 Champions League goals in all last season, including in the final.

However, his brave header in Kiev to bring Liverpool briefly level was quickly forgotten amid the furore over Salah’s early shoulder injury that saw him hobble off and aided Real Madrid’s route to a third straight European title.

While Salah now carries himself with a swagger from the star status he has earned over the past two years, Mane’s humble nature means he often remains under the radar for a player of his quality.

In September he was filmed helping to clean the toilets at his local mosque just hours after scoring in a vital away win at Leicester.

Last week in an internal interview with Liverpool’s club media, he detailed a daily routine that consists of healthy eating, prayer and early nights.

“That’s how a normal day for me looks. This is my dream, this is something I’ve always wanted to do, and I am so grateful that I am able to do it now,” he said.

“My dream came true, to play for one of the biggest clubs in Europe with a great team, a great manager.”

Porto are already very aware of the threat Mane poses. When the sides met in the last of the Champions League last season, he scored a hat-trick in a 5-0 first leg rout in northern Portugal that killed the tie as a contest even before it even returned to fortress Anfield.

This time round, Liverpool will be keen to get the job done in the first leg on home soil.

Klopp’s men have not made life easy for themselves in recent weeks on league duty, requiring late goals to see off Fulham, Tottenham and Southampton to keep their title dreams alive.

However, just by keeping pace with quadruple chasing Manchester City all season, they have shown a maturity and mental strength that has evolved from the kamikaze matches that carried them to last season’s final.

Mane scores against Port last season

Mane scores against Port last season

“The boys are mentality monsters – I love that,” said Klopp after victory at Southampton.

Moreover, unlike when Sergio Ramos’s takedown of Salah seemed to suck belief from Liverpool against Madrid almost a year ago, they now have a cast of characters capable of stepping up.

Goalkeeper Alisson Becker and talismanic centre-back Van Dijk have strengthened the defence.

And, at the other end, Mane has shown he can be counted on at the business end of the season.

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Virgil van Dijk still improving, says Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp

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Virgil van Dijk can get even better, according to his manager.

Virgil van Dijk’s attributes on and off the pitch have made Liverpool better but the player is still improving himself, according to manager Jurgen Klopp.

The Netherlands captain has made a huge difference to the side’s defensive capability with 17 Premier League clean sheets contributing to just 19 goals conceded in 32 matches this season.

Since he arrived in January 2018 in a £75million deal, Van Dijk has racked up a total of 28 clean sheets in all competitions and his composure and calming presence has had a noticeable effect on the players around him.

Van Dijk is seen by many as a Liverpool captain in waiting – he has already worn the armband a number of times on a temporary basis – and Klopp recognised the impact the world’s most expensive defender has had.

“Yes he improved us, and I think he has improved as well since he is here,” said Klopp ahead of Van Dijk’s return to former club Southampton on Friday.

“That’s what you expect and what you hope for. If a player comes in you hope he makes the whole team better.

“That’s how good players are, and he’s obviously a very good player.

“He’s so important for us, not only as a player but as a person as well. I couldn’t say a bad word about him even if I wanted to.

“He’s a different player to the one he was at Southampton. He was good there, really good, but with all the different games he’s played now, and being part of the Champions League quarter-final, semi-final, final, all that stuff, that all helps you as a player.

“And for a centre-half he is still young, there is still a lot to come. Hopefully he can stay healthy and everything will be fine.”

Southampton may be in a relegation battle, five points clear of the bottom three, but they have won three of their past four league matches and that has made Klopp wary ahead of the trip to St Mary’s.

The German has been impressed with the job Southampton counterpart Ralph Hasenhuttl has done since taking over from Mark Hughes in December.

“I have to say the job he is doing there is incredible. He brought young players in, academy players, a pretty brave decision,” said Klopp.

“It’s a really good side and the analysis was really interesting because it doesn’t look like a team that fights to stay in the league.

“The games they lost, they were unlucky rather than playing bad, I would say.

“I think they are eighth in the form table, last 15 games at least, so that means they are fighting for the league and that gives you good information about the intensity of the game probably.”

Liverpool have announced they will be opening the Kop for the 30th anniversary of the Hillsborough disaster, in which 96 fans lost their lives, for families and supporters who would like to attend for a period of reflection.

There will not be a public memorial service and there will be no activity inside the stadium on April 15 but the ground will be open, subject to obtaining a free ticket from the club in advance, for anyone wishing to attend.

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Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp unconcerned about Mohamed Salah's 'slump'

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Jurgen Kloppand Mohamed Salah

Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp insists Mohamed Salah’s goalscoring drought does not bother him or the player as it does not mean his career is over.

The Egypt international, who scored an incredible 42 times in his maiden season at Anfield, has gone eight matches without finding the net.

However, Salah still has 20 goals for the season and played a pivotal part in the last-gasp winner against Tottenham on Sunday.

“When everybody is talking about ‘he didn’t score in I don’t know how many games’, he doesn’t seem to be bothered about it. I’m not,” said Klopp.

“For sure we didn’t really speak about it. I think if something is clear and obvious you do speak about it.

“How do you deal with a situation when he scored 40 goals last year?

“His career’s not over. It’s like if he can score this year 20 goals then he’s scored 60 in the last two. Wow, that’s not too bad.”

Salah’s success last season means he has attracted more attention from opponents in the current campaign, often being double-marked, and that has led to him not being as prolific.

It has had the effect, though, of benefiting team-mates, with Sadio Mane (20) and Roberto Firmino (14) taking some of the burden.

“Sometimes you need a bit of time to adapt to the new situations and I don’t think he really needed that,” added Klopp on Salah’s overall value to the side and how he has coped with the close attention.

“He’s a threat. He helps us a lot. He deals with all the new situations for him really well.

“If you have only one (goalscorer), you think maybe you rely a bit too much on that. This year we don’t rely on Mo’s goals, but he’s still in a very good position in comparison to all the other players.

“Seventeen (league) goals is a good number, and there are still a lot of games to come.

“But it was never a problem. We have 79 points – you cannot have that with a lot of problems over the year.

“The thing is that because we had no major problems so far, we speak always about these other things.

“It’s not really something we speak about in the dressing room. Not at all.”

Liverpool travel to Southampton on Friday and Klopp reported a clean bill of health after a minor injury worry over key defender Virgil Van Dijk following the win over Tottenham.

“It looks quite good. No major concerns, actually. After the game, you think about Virg, but he trained OK, completely normal,” said the Reds boss.

“It was only a second recovery day but he took part in that, and I heard nothing different that he could maybe not train today. No, it looks all OK.”

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