Sadio Mané scored his 14th goal in the UEFA Champions League knockout stages tonight, tying Didier Drogba for the most in the competition’s history.
The 30-year-old scored Liverpool’s second goal as the Reds defeated Villarreal 2-0 in the first leg of their Champions League semi-final. In the 55th minute, Mane pounced onto Mohamed Salah’s clever through ball and pushed past Geronimo Rulli to increase his side’s lead, bringing them closer to the final in May. With his 14th knockout goal, the Senegalese star tied Drogba’s total, which is the most by an African player in Champions League history.
In 2012, the Ivorian won the competition with Chelsea, hitting the decisive penalty in a shoot-out after scoring a stunning header in the final against Bayern Munich. Mane, who is aiming to win his second European trophy in May, may soon overtake Drogba’s achievements.
With his 106th goal in the Premier League, the former Southampton striker surpassed the Stamford Bridge legend as the greatest African goalscorer. Mane has added three more goals since then to extend his lead over Drogba, who retired in 2018 after a trophy-laden career.
His frightening form follows questions over his future throughout the winter, when Diogo Jota was fired and Luis Diaz joined from Porto for £50 million. Liverpool’s coach, on the other hand, sees the aging Mane as an important part of his game style that has brought so much success to Anfield throughout his reign.
Villareal was a “really difficult opponent” and “built for this competition,” according to Klopp, who said in the buildup that it was “designed for this competition.” Maybe in the last two games, there might have been a slight advantage. Maybe Juve or Bayern underestimated them, but that will never happen to us,” Klopp told reporters. “There isn’t a chance, therefore this small edge may have vanished.”
“There isn’t a chance, therefore this small edge may have vanished.” Because of Villarreal’s attitude to the game, there was little prospect of repeating Manchester City’s seven-goal flurry against Real Madrid on Tuesday.
As many predicted, the first half came to a close. Liverpool controlled the ball for 63 percent of the time, completing 258 passes to 95 for its opponents. However, despite having so much time on the ball, the Reds were unable to accomplish much. They fired 13 rounds, but only two of them hit the target. Villarreal was defending hard and well in their own half, causing havoc.
Liverpool’s best chance to score came in the 42nd minute, and it came on a long-range attempt. Thiago launched a barrage of punches that ricocheted against the walls. In the 50th minute, Fabinho’s goal was ruled out for offside, seemingly setting the tone for another tense half. Then, in a two-minute stretch, the match—and possibly the tie as a whole—was significantly transformed.
Jordan Henderson’s cross was deflected into the goal by Pervis Estupinan in the 53rd minute. Geronimo Rulli, the goalkeeper for Villarreal, got a hand on the ball and should have done more to prevent an own goal credited to Estupinan.
When the Yellow Submarine fell behind 1-0, they didn’t have to change their game strategy much in order to find an equalizer. They may send the semifinals back to square one with a deadly counterattack. After Mane’s goal, Unai Emery’s team is forced to come out of their defensive shell. Based on Wednesday night, that might be easier said than done.