Liverpool manager believes striker has long been a target
Klopp: ‘Sadio is now much better at dealing with that’
Jürgen Klopp has told Sadio Mané to control his emotions when provoked by opponents and “pay them back with football”. The Liverpool manager believes opposition players regularly attempt to antagonise the striker, and was embroiled in a furious row with Mikel Arteta last weekend after the Arsenal bench appealed for a card when Mané caught Takehiro Tomiyasu.
Klopp admits he has spoken to the Senegal international about not rising to the bait, and is confident the advice has been heeded. “It has been a thing for much longer,” said Klopp. “Even when it was not obvious to the outside. You can see it in games that they go for him because they want to wind him up.
“But it is two different things. One is to make Sadio really aggressive during the game. We saw that against Flamengo in the Club World Cup final. Rafinha wanted to go for him after he caused them some problems when we played Bayern in the Champions League. It was obvious from the first second when he went in really hard.
“Sadio is now of an age where he is much better at [dealing with] that; not that emotional any more. We all need emotions, obviously, and sometimes we control them better and sometimes less and yes, we’ve had these talks, but I really don’t think it had anything to do with the situation against Arsenal. That was pretty much nothing, a normal challenge.
“With Real Madrid it was obvious and against Atlético Madrid it was pretty much obvious – they had the red card and directly after a player went down and made more [of a challenge] just to make sure they get our player sent off or yellow card. That is what I was talking about. The headline [from their discussions] is: ‘We pay back with football. Whatever we do, we pay them back with football.’”
Mané faces his former club Southampton on Saturday having scored in his past four Premier League appearances at Anfield and nine times this season. As with Mohamed Salah, Klopp believes the striker is reaping the rewards of an extended break and pre-season.
“Sadio is a very confident person and we all felt it on the first day of pre-season, after a proper break, that he was completely 100% there,” he said. “It was clear. It was obvious that if he was lucky with injuries it would be a really good season for him because that is the quality he has. And that is what he shows now.
“I cannot say enough how important it is for these players to have a proper break. I will speak about that for the next 20 years but the authorities will not change it. But this year Mo and Sadio had a proper break and at the moment, so far, we are getting the benefit.”