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Ryan Baldi: Three possible Mane replacements for Liverpool

June 1, 2022

THE dust had barely settled on Liverpool’s Champions League final defeat to Real Madrid before news broke to deal the Reds another blow: Sadio Mane wants out.

The 30-year-old Senegalese forward has enjoyed six richly successful seasons at Anfield, in which he helped Liverpool win a sixth European Cup and claim a first league title in 30 years, all while bagging 120 goals and elevating himself into the echelon of the world’s best players.

Now Mane is ready for a new challenge and Liverpool are left to seek a replacement. But the form of January signing Luis Diaz likely means a direct heir to Mane on the left flank is not needed.

Rather, with the slumping form of Roberto Firmino at the point of the Reds’ attack, Liverpool might be better served replacing Mane with a striker. Here are three options for Jurgen Klopp to consider.

 

Jonathan David – Lille

Canadian forward Jonathan David has been a revelation in the French top flight since his 2020 move to Lille. The 22-year-old was instrumental in Les Dogues’ unlikely toppling of PSG to win the Ligue 1 title in his first season at the Stade Pierre-Mauroy, scoring 13 goals, and he eclipsed that figure with a return of 19 in 2021-22.

David, who is poised to be one of the breakout stars of the World Cup later this year, had shone previously with Gent in Belgium, where his 30 goals in 60 league games across two seasons convinced Lille to fork out €30m – a record sum for a Canadian player – to acquire his services.

One of the keys to the success of Liverpool’s vaunted front three over the last half-decade has been its delicate stylistic balance. Firmino has been the mobile, grafting facilitator in the No.9 position whose unselfish work and creativity has allowed Mane and, in particular, Mohamed Salah to thrive as goal threats from the wide positions.

Although David operated predominantly and an out-and-out striker last term and didn’t register a single assist, he does have the versatility and creativity to allow Salah to continue to shine. His has played wide on the left in his career, as well as operating as a second striker behind a traditional No.9, so he has the ability to drift from the front line to create space for Liverpool’s Egyptian superstar. David also displayed his creativity in his final season in Belgium, in which he registered 10 assists.

Interest in David is high, with several top clubs from around the Continent reportedly readying moves for the youngster this summer. And, valued at around £45m, he is not a cheap option for Liverpool. But his youth, future potential and malleability make him an outstanding option to refresh the Reds’ attack.

 

Darwin Nunez – Benfica

A reported target for Manchester United, Uruguayan striker Darwin Nunez is the latest eye-catching attacking player to shoot to stardom in Portugal’s Primeira Liga.

The 22-year-old scored 34 goals in just 41 all-competitions appearances for Benfica last season, finishing as the division’s top scorer and the Portuguese top-flight’s Footballer of the Year.

It was a breakout campaign for Nunez, whom Benfica plucked from the relative obscurity of the Spanish Second Division in 2020, where he’d notched an impressive 16 goals in 30 league games for Almeria.

Known more for the explosive pace and powerful finishing he showed at the Estadio da Luz last term, Nunez also has the creativity to slot into the Liverpool attack. Like David, he has played as both a winger and second striker previously, and it was his ability to create goals for others that first caught the eye upon his club-record €24m move to Benfica, with an impressive 12 assists in his first campaign in Portugal.

If Klopp is keen on Nunez, he might have to move quickly. The Uruguayan, valued at over £60m, is believed to be high on Manchester United’s summer wish list.

 

Robert Lewandowski – Bayern Munich

Mane is not the only wantaway superstar at one of Europe’s biggest clubs this summer. Reigning Ballon d’Or winner Robert Lewandowski is seeking pastures new after eight glory-filled years with Bayern Munich.

“One thing is certain today, my story with Bayern is over,” the legendary Polish striker said recently.

One of the greatest goal-scorers of his generation, Lewandowski has scored an incredible 344 goals in 375 games for the Bavarian giants since his controversial move from rivals Borussia Dortmund in 2014. He has won everything there is to win with Bayern, including eight successive Bundesliga titles and the Champions League in 2020.

He will turn 34 in August, but Lewandowski shows no signs of decline, as evidenced by a return of 50 goals in 46 games last season.

An all-time-great goal-getter of Lewandowski’s pedigree might be less likely to defer to Salah as the primary scorer at Anfield should the Reds decide to swoop for the 129-cap Poland international. But the opportunity to add one of the world’s best players is not to be sneered at, and Klopp would surely relish the opportunity to fit Salah and Lewandowski together in his starting XI.

Barcelona are believed to be the early front-runners for Lewandowski’s signature, but Liverpool could jump to the front of the queue by exploiting the fact that Bayern are reportedly the top suitors for Mane.

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