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Liverpool's in-form Sadio Mane set to face former club Southampton
Watch Southampton vs Liverpool live on Sky Sports Premier League from 7pm on Friday; kick-off at 8pm
Last Updated: 05/04/19 7:57pm
Sadio Mane will return to his former club on Friday when Liverpool face Southampton live on Sky Sports - but how has the winger developed since his £36m move three years ago?
Jurgen Klopp's side can reclaim top spot with a win at St Mary's, and will then have only five games remaining to potentially end a 29-year hiatus and become top-flight champions.
The Reds are keeping pace with reigning champions Manchester City, and Mane has been instrumental in their challenge - stepping up when Mo Salah has suffered a considerable dip in form.
Last season's Golden Boot winner had a brief moment of relief after appearing to end a five-game goal drought with the winner against Spurs last weekend - before it was deemed a Toby Alderweireld own goal.
In contrast, Salah's left-sided counterpart has stepped up to the plate since the turn of the year - netting nine goals in his last 10 league games - and has emerged as the Reds' key attacking threat for The Run In.
According to the Sky Sports Power Rankings, Mane actually kicked off the season with his best performance in a Liverpool shirt since the start of last season - scoring twice in a 4-0 win over West Ham.
But his current average performance ratings - shown in blue on the chart above - now match a two-year high, and he has sustained those levels for the first time during that period.
Sadio played pretty much always like this but now he is always in the right spot in the right moment.
The Senegal international drew level with Salah on 17 league goals after firing Liverpool in front at Craven Cottage last month - having scored 11 of those since breaking the deadlock against Manchester United in December.
Despite perfecting his goalscoring touch, Mane has created far fewer chances for his team-mates during this campaign, with his total of 33 being nearly half that of Salah's 56 - while he has recorded only one assist.
It's a stark contrast to last season, when Mane assisted seven goals and created 49 chances.
As the graphic below shows, his goalscoring rate has soared at an exponential rate, while his numbers for assists have flat-lined all season.
Applying that same scale to Salah, the chart below reveals just how remarkable the Egyptian's first term at Anfield was - maintaining a scoring rate some 40 per cent higher than Mane's current return during the final weeks.
Klopp deployed the 26-year-old exclusively down the right flank during his first season at Anfield, but switched him to the left for the start of 2017/18 - when Salah arrived - and that is where he has been primarily stationed since.
Initially, that switch merely mirrored his activity from the right flank, but there has been a notable transformation during this campaign - Mane is now driving into the opposition box far more frequently with career-high activity in that area.
That forward-thinking momentum has transformed his distribution, too. The graphic below shows he has looked to pass directly infield instead of backwards this season.
Mane is currently "always in the right spot, in the right moment," according to Klopp, and the graphic below suggests Mane's increased activity in the box has, indeed, paid dividends.
The majority of his goals this season have come 12 yards from goal, in the central third - an area he rarely converted from in previous seasons.
And those numbers bear out across his entire career in England, outscoring his previous tally in four out of five seasons - with his 17 goals this term four clear of his previous career-high in 2016/17.
The Senegal international is also recording more shots on target per 90 minutes than in any other season, attempting 1.2 on average, amounting to exactly one in every two accurate shots finding the back of the net.
He is in a really good moment, of course. The only thing he did when he was not always in the right spot was work and work and work.
Klopp has suggested his star winger has achieved current performance levels through hard graft: "The only thing he did when he was not always in the right spot was work and work and work."
That 'right spot at the right time' ability, combined with Mane's improving finishing skills, has contributed to Mane achieving a league-high surplus in expected goals, scoring five goals more than Opta's metric would expect - ahead of Heung-min Son, Raheem Sterling, and Eden Hazard.
So will the former Saint be in the right place at the right time at his old stomping ground on Friday, and can Klopp's men maintain their title tilt and reclaim the Premier League summit?
Watch Southampton vs Liverpool live on Sky Sports Premier League from 7pm on Friday, with kick-off at 8pm.
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