Liverpool’s African duo Sadio Mane and Joel Matip are both proving to be key additions to Jurgen Klopp's squad after moving to Merseyside during the summer, but which of the duo are more critical to the Reds' title hopes this season, and who will be the key man as the Anfield giants take on Manchester United on Monday evening.
Mane, who arrived from Southampton for £36 million, has become one of the Klopp’s favorites, starting six of Liverpool’s seven league matches so far this season and proving a big hit with three goals and an assist to date.
However, while the Senegal internaitonal has stolen the headlines during the Reds' fine start to the season, Matip has been quietly impressive, overcoming an early injury setback to claim a starting spot.
In this feature, Goal assess the duo's importance to Liverpool's title tilt.
Mane plays a key role in Liverpool’s attacking game and their intense pressing style under Klopp, with the forward an ideal complement to both the Reds' approach and his teammates.
His strongest points are his speed and his dribbling, while he gets fouled often, winning set pieces in crucial areas on the field. He has been given the freedom by Klopp to focus on his strengths and to express himself in attacking areas.
“Mane is one of the key triggers for the all-conquering football Jurgen Klopp wants his charges to implement,” said Goal’s Liverpool correspondent Melissa Reddy. “His speed, relentlessness and the chemistry he has already struck up with his team-mates has been a pleasure to watch.
Sadio Mane | 2016-17 Stats
"He had his least influential game thus far against Chelsea - the hosts at Stamford Bridge restricting his space considerably - but has been a real highlight in Liverpool's blistering start to the season.”
African Footballer of the Year nomineeMane started life in the North-West impressively with a wonder goal against Arsenal and has subsequently gone from strength to strength. Alongside the likes of Adam Lallana, Roberto Coutinho, Philippe Coutinho and Daniel Sturridge, the Senegal international is part of one of the most fearsome forward lineups in England, and they have more than enough to trouble United on Monday.
Matip, who remarkably joined Liverpool on a free transfer when he joined from Schalke this summer, already looks incredible value for money. While one or two errors have crept into his performances at Anfield, he's already shown enough to suggest that he can become one of the Premier League's pre-eminent defenders.
Liverpool's defensive concerns were a problem under both Brendan Rodgers and during the first season of Klopp's tenure, and the early games of the season suggested that familiar problems would undermine the Reds again.
In that context, Matip's composure has been invaluable, with the centre-back stepping into the backline to provide strength, excellent anticipation and bold tackling, making Liverpool look more solid almost immediately.
Could he be the missing piece of the jigsaw as the Merseysiders look to challenge for the title?
“Joel has been composed, assured and near-faultless at the back for Liverpool,” Reddy added. “His strength in defending set-pieces and his aerial dominance are two facets the Reds have been badly in need of.
"His calmness on the ball and his desire to play a positive pass suit Liverpool's aggressive approach perfectly," she added. "He was solid at Chelsea, and his passiveness for Diego Costa's goal aside, was again one of the star performers.”
To date, it's hard to look beyond Mane as the more significant addition to Liverpool's squad to date and the more valuable component of Klopp's side ahead of the derby against United.
The former Southampton man has settled well, already found the net, and fitted in seamlessly to the Reds' intense attacking style...even if he did cost a small fortune!
In time, however, it could well be the Cameroon centre-back who establishes himself not only as the more valuable figure on the Reds' starting line and, considering his transfer fee (or lack thereof) he could emerge as the better signing of the two.
Certainly, having indicated that he would reject an invitation to represent Cameroon at the Nations Cup to concentrate on his club career, the defender could well be the difference between another leaky campaign where Liverpool flatter to deceive and a title campaign.