Salah (12.5m) vs. Mane (11.5m). Such a popular dilemma from last gameweeks of the previous season. However, with a little price difference between those two and Mane in AFCON final, many managers prefer Salah ahead of Mane from the start of a new season. There is a chance that Mane will not start in first Liverpool matches, so there is a good logic behind this decision. Let’s overlook AFCON and the possibility that Mane may not start against Norwich, exclude it from the equation and compare these two with our minds focused on a longer time period than only GW1 and GW2.
In my opinion, the one of the most important things that needs to be considered is a formation Liverpool is going to use through the next season. I tweeted about it during last season. In GW25 of 18/19 season Liverpool switched formation from 4-5-1 (Salah at front), which was used in the majority of the first 25 games, to 4-3-3 and Salah moved to the wing. Mane’s role changed too, and he started to make more runs into the box looking for passes from fullbacks. Here are some stats from understat before and after GW24:
Goals per Game
In last 14 matches, Mane scored 12 goals, more than anyone else in the league, while Salah just 6. Mane’s goals per game increased almost twice from 0,45 to 0,86 after changing formation in GW25 while Salah’s decreased from 0,67 to 0,43.
xG per 90
A metric xG of these players registered similar movement as well. Mane’s xG per 90 increased after GW24 what means he was getting more quality chances than before that. His goals per game was higher than xG per 90 and he was overperforming a bit. However, his xG per 90 was still higher that Salah’s, so he was getting better scoring opportunities than Egyptian.
Shots per Game
Surprisingly, the change of formation did not influence the number of shots that Mane fired at the goal. Salah’s shots per game increased by 38% after the changing of formation and he was more active in this metric during whole season.
xA per 90
Key Passes per Game
The change of formation also decreased Salah’s assists potential because his xA per 90 decreased by 57% and key passes per game decreased by 33%. However, he did better than Mane in this measure for whole season. Senegalese’s assists potential was not influenced by the formation change.
Another key area of this examination are headers.
|Goals from Headers
We all noticed that after GW24 there were plenty of crosses from full backs towards Mane’s head. And he was converting them brilliantly. After GW24 he scored 6 headers, before GW24 he scored none. It is possible, that Klopp discovered new Mane’s power – headers – and changed a game plan a bit. A table below displays the number of Mane’s headers in last seasons.
The number of Mane’s headers and their quality (measured by xG) rapidly increased compared to previous seasons. In the 2018/19 season he had even more headed goal attempts than Virgil Van Dijk (22 compared to 20).
At the end, there is a comparison of points per match before and after formation switch.
Points per Match
Mane outscored Salah by almost 2 points per match after formation change.
Because of AFCON, Salah is safer option for at least first 2 gameweeks. However, after that we should pay attention to Liverpool formation. If they play 4-3-3 and Mane makes runs into the box in order to finish with head, he could by a better choice than Egyptian. He showed it in last 14 matches of 18/19 season with strong stats supporting it and he has the ability to outscore Salah when Egyptian is playing at the wing.