EPL

Liverpool v Manchester City: Mane out to make a splash as Aguero's 'big-six' record looms large

By Sports Desk November 07, 2019

Some players thrive under the spotlight more than others – Liverpool will hope Sadio Mane proves his mettle against Manchester City, when the focus will be on him for more than one reason.

Mane has established himself as one of the Premier League's great entertainers and arguably Liverpool's biggest attacking threat, yet he has also earned himself a reputation as a purveyor of the dark arts – or "diving", as Pep Guardiola put it on Saturday.

Earlier that day, Mane had gone down very easily in the penalty area during Liverpool's 2-1 win at Aston Villa. Under pressure from Frederic Guilbert, the forward theatrically went to ground and was swiftly shown a yellow card for simulation by referee Jon Moss.

Jurgen Klopp and Mane have had their say since and come to the conclusion that the Senegal forward is not a "diver" – and even Guardiola appeared to backtrack – yet this weekend he will come under intense scrutiny over his conduct, performance and attitude, particularly given that this was by no means the first time the former Southampton star courted flak for diving.

Considering Mane's importance to Liverpool, Klopp will be desperate for him to harness that attention to the Reds' benefit on the big stage, something Sergio Aguero has become remarkably adept at. 

Aguero the benchmark

Since joining City from Atletico Madrid in 2011, Aguero's productivity in games against the so-called "big six" has been truly remarkable.

In 67 matches, Aguero has scored 44 goals from 241 shots with a conversion rate of 18.3 per cent. Against any standard of opposition that would be considered outstanding – to boast such a record against the Premier League's best is astonishing.

But he is yet to score in seven trips to Anfield, making it his least favourite away ground. 

Jamie Vardy is the closest to Aguero in terms of goals, with 31 in 59 matches. While that may not be as impressive, the fact that haul comes from 109 shots – giving him a startling 28.4 per cent conversion rate – suggests he relishes such occasions like few others.

Mane's record of 18 goals in 53 matches against the top sides may pale in comparison, but it remains impressive and is bettered by only six players.

Sadio the main Mane at Anfield

There is little doubt Mane has become the most influential attacker at Liverpool this season, with 12 goal involvements (nine goals, three assists). Mohamed Salah has 10 split equally between goals and assists, while Roberto Firmino is on nine (five goals, four assists).

Mane's nine goals across all competitions may not be groundbreaking, but it is only one shy of Raheem Sterling and two fewer than Aguero.

He has proven to be a vital creator for the Reds as well, laying on 29 chances for team-mates, six more than Firmino and eight better than Salah.

It is also worth pointing out Mane's 20.9 per cent conversion rate, as that too is significantly better than those posted by Salah (7.9 per cent) and Firmino (13.2 per cent).

Mane out to make a splash

Mane's reply to Guardiola after Liverpool's Champions League win over Genk suggested he is handling the situation rather comfortably.

Not only did he admit he would do what he did against Villa – what he considered to not be a dive – again, he insisted Guardiola's comments won't change him.

Given he has established himself as Liverpool's chief attacking threat, that'll be music to the ears of Klopp as he prepares his side to potentially go nine points clear at the Premier League summit.

Klopp will hope Mane can make a splash of the right kind against the champions at Anfield.

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    Silvio Berlusconi, Adriano Galliani, Cristian Brocchi, Mario Balotelli, Kevin-Prince Boateng and Gabriel Paletta.

    There is a real Milan vibe about Monza, who are nestled 15 kilometres north of the Lombardy capital, as the ambitious club stand closer than ever to achieving their goal of Serie A promotion after spending their entire existence in the lower leagues.

    Monza are owned by former Milan president and Italy prime minister Berlusconi, who returned to football in 2018 after selling his beloved Rossoneri a year earlier.

    After purchasing the club through his Fininvest company, Berlusconi turned to his trusted right-hand man Galliani – who was born in Monza – as CEO. Their partnership helped turn the Rossoneri into a superpower, with eight Serie A titles and five Champions League/European Cup crowns among the 29 pieces of silverware between 1986 and 2017.

    Monza are also coached by former Milan midfielder and boss Brocchi, while the Serie B outfit also boasts ex-Rossoneri players Balotelli, Boateng and Paletta.

    After completing their rise from Serie C to the second tier of Italian football amid the coronavirus pandemic in 2019-20, Monza are well and truly in the promotion mix – fourth and six points adrift of leaders Empoli, while they are only two points behind Cittadella, who occupy the final automatic spot through 18 games.

    Moving up to Serie A would mean a Milan reunion for many of Monza's staff and players, as well as Brocchi – who won the Scudetto and two Champions League titles among other honours at San Siro between 2001 and 2008 before spending a brief period in charge eight years later.

    "It is a dream that hopefully will come true. To have brought the Milan mentality coming from our board – always striving to build an important organisation similar to the Milan that won so much worldwide," Brocchi told Stats Perform News.

    "Board, manager and some players have worn that shirt and the dream to recreate Milan here in Monza is beautiful and emotional."

    "It is a tough season. There are many strong clubs, the ones relegated from A [in 2019-20] who have retained all the important players and those who last season had built up a squad for promotion and failed, so I think this year's Serie B is the hardest of recent times," he continued.

    Monza – back in Serie B following a 19-year absence – are no ordinary second-tier team in Italy, with all eyes on the Bagai due to Berlusconi.

    Berlusconi's presence has changed the landscape for Monza, who tried to sign Zlatan Ibrahimovic before the star striker opted to return to Milan in January last year. However, Monza have since lured Balotelli and Boateng to the club.

    "Working for Berlusconi and Galliani's club is grand because all media attention is on you. For sure everybody thinks Monza have to win every game because these two people have gone down in football history winning so much. And this is exactly our goal," Brocchi said.

    "I know very well Berlusconi and Galliani's wish is to reach Serie A and win every game. We share the same mindset because I have grown up with them since I was nine. To me it is an honour to be the manager here.

    "For sure it is beautiful and important for me to manage in a club like Monza that are very ambitious. It is not easy to take a club from Serie C to Serie A but it is emotional because you have a lot of responsibilities and adrenaline is always rushing. As I said, to face strong clubs with your own aim and manage to overcome them, would make this even better." 

    Brocchi, who oversaw just seven matches as Milan coach before being replaced by Vincenzo Montella, continued: "Monza's aim is to improve. We started from C, we are in B and we want Serie A. The difference between us and other clubs is that once in Serie A we won't have the goal of avoiding relegation at the last game, but to rank in the top 10.

    "Mr Galliani wants us to always be a strong team going for great objectives. This is what will happen should we win this league."

    Balotelli and Boateng are set to play a key role in Monza's push for promotion following their high-profile arrivals.

    Boateng has made an immediate impact, with the former Milan and Barcelona midfielder – on average – scoring a goal every 243 minutes in Serie B this season, the best average among Monza players with at least 90 minutes played.

    Only Dany Mota has fired more shots on target than Boateng (23 to 10) among Monza players this term and the talented Portuguese forward has four league goals.

    Balotelli – coming off a difficult spell at Brescia before their relegation from Serie A – scored with his first touch in Serie B on debut for Monza last month before being sidelined through injury.

    "They [Balotelli and Boateng] arrived here in Serie B thanks to the acquaintance they had with Berlusconi and Galliani and even with me as a manager, since I trained them at Milan and we had a great relationship," said Brocchi, who was handed his first senior head-coaching role at Milan after replacing Sinisa Mihajlovic almost five years ago, having previously worked with the club's youth team.

    "They settled in very well, they always train hard, they lead by example by showing the will to take me, Berlusconi, Galliani and Monza to Serie A. So far they have been important, let's hope they can give us even more in order to make this dream come true."

    The experience of Balotelli and Boateng complements an exciting core of Monza players, including Mota and Brazilian full-back Carlos Augusto, as well as talented loanees Davide Frattesi (Sassuolo), Andrea Colpani (Atalanta) and Davide Bettella (Atalanta).

    Both Balotelli and Boateng have tasted Serie A success in their careers to go with respective Premier League and LaLiga honours, with the latter part of the last Milan team to celebrate Scudetto glory in 2010-11.

    The strategy of sporting director Filippo Antonelli and Brocchi to invest in promising young talent has continued to deliver results on the pitch.

    Monza have allowed the fewest headed goals (one) in Serie B this season, while Brocchi's side have conceded 10 goals from inside the box – the least in the league, while they have scored five goals inside the opening 15 minutes of play – the joint most in 2020-21.

    "Monza are a mix of experienced players and great young talents. The right mix to achieve our goals. Players like Balotelli and Boateng can help Mota, Carlos Augusto, Frattesi, Colpani or Bettella, all under-21 players for Italy and Portugal," the 44-year-old Brocchi said.

    "You can't only field experienced players, you have to look for the right mix and this is what Antonelli and I looked for. I think experience helps youngsters and their exuberance helps the expert ones."

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    - Dele Alli wants to reunite with Mauricio Pochettino at PSG. 90min says the Tottenham midfielder has asked chairman Daniel Levy not to block a potential switch this month.

    - Arsenal appear set to strengthen in January. Sport reports midfielder Martin Odegaard is very close to joining the Premier League club on loan from Real Madrid.

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    Liverpool's 68-game unbeaten home league run came to an end after Ashley Barnes netted a late penalty.

    Reigning champions Liverpool have gone four league games without scoring and are winless in five, leaving them six points adrift of leaders Manchester United.

    Klopp said it would be ridiculous to discuss the title race given his side's form.

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    "The confidence is not on the highest level, I think that is so obvious that I don't have to mention it – you can see it in specific moments. It is like 90 per cent of all what the boys did all of the time is still there, but the decisive 10 per cent in the moment is missing.

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    Liverpool face Manchester United in the FA Cup fourth round on Sunday before visiting Tottenham four days later.

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