The Reds stayed six points clear at the top of the Premier League after their dramatic 2-1 win at Villa Park on Saturday
It only needed three words for Adam Lallana to sum up Sadio Mane.
“What a soccer professional!” beamed the Liverpool midfielder when asked to talk about his brilliant, match-winning colleague.
What a soccer professional, indeed, and what a moment Mane produced on Saturday. The Senegal star was the late, late hero for Jurgen Klopp’s side at Villa Park, his 94th-minute header securing a dramatic 2-1 victory for the Reds, on a day when it had looked for so long like they would come unstuck.
Liverpool trailed with just three minutes remaining, only for Mane to create an equaliser for Andy Robertson at the far post. And then, in the fourth of five added minutes, he was there himself to guide Trent Alexander-Arnold’s corner home.
“He just comes up with the big, big moments all the time,” Lallana said. “The same with Robbo too.”
Mane’s goal was his 10th of the season in all competitions, and underlined his importance to Klopp’s side. He’d been far from his best, giving away the free-kick from which Aston Villa took the lead and then picking up a yellow card for simulation before half-time. He’d been booed by the home fans and denied by Tom Heaton, the Villa goalkeeper.
But when Liverpool needed him, there he was. Mane, as much as anyone, sums up the indomitable spirit within this team.
“The crowd tried to make him a little more insecure,” Klopp said afterwards. “But that’s obviously not possible with Sadio!”
Not possible with any of his players, in fairness. For the third league game in a row, Liverpool turned a half-time deficit into a positive result. Already this season, they have won 10 points from losing positions – more than any other side in the division.
“We keep getting late goals,” Lallana said. “The resilience and character has been just there in abundance.
“We were poor first half and it was important we gave a reaction in the second half. I thought we did. I had a big chance with about 15 to go, we just needed that goal for the momentum because it can change and that has been exactly what happened today.
“It’s almost like a sixth sense. We knew once we got one goal then that [second] was going to come. We got that [first] goal late, but we still had enough time. It doesn’t surprise me, you know, that we got that second goal.”
The importance of the victory cannot be overstated. At one point, Liverpool’s lead at the top of the table was being cut to just three points, courtesy of Manchester City’s own come-from-behind win over Southampton. Had the Reds lost, Pep Guardiola’s side would have been able to overtake them at the top by winning at Anfield next Sunday.
“It wasn’t mentioned at half time,” insisted Lallana. “But we came in there to the changing room and saw that they have got two late goals. But we have got two later goals, so…”
Certainly, it has been Liverpool who will head into next weekend’s showdown in the box seat. Victory would open up a nine-point margin heading into the last international break of 2019, while even a defeat would leave a three-point cushion. It has been City who need the win most, and it promises to be a genuine thriller.
Before that, though, there has been the small matter of a Champions League clash against Genk, in which Liverpool can take a huge step towards qualification for the last 16. The games are coming thick and fast for Klopp and his team.
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“We’re going to need everyone over the next few months,” Lallana said, who made his first league start of the season at Villa.
“But we have got strength in depth and with the amount of games and the competitions that we are in, we will need absolutely everyone.”
They needed everyone at Villa – and in particular Mane, very much the man of the moment where Liverpool are concerned.