Photo credit: Clive Brunskill/Getty

Sadio Mané isn’t the sole reason Liverpool failed to beat Everton in a match they completely controlled everywhere except on the scoresheet. You could and probably should blame the referee for awarding Everton an exceptionally soft penalty from which the Toffees scored their only good chance of the day. You could also blame Reds manager Jürgen Klopp for resting two key attacking players in Philippe Coutinho and Roberto Firmino. You could even blame the players on the pitch as a collective, for while they did a good job of keeping Everton away from the dangerous areas of the pitch outside of just one or two speculative punts down the pitch that Dominic Calvert-Lewin was somehow able to wrangle, Liverpool still didn’t really create all that many good opportunities to threaten Everton’s goal themselves. But one such good chance the Reds did create—the best one of the whole night, a literal tap-in had the play been culminated the way it should’ve—was under the control of Mané, and he absolutely blew it:

Selfishness in a forward is a good thing. Usually. The whole reason why the best attackers get so good at scoring goals is that they attempt shots others wouldn’t take, make risky choices at which more circumspect players would blanch, and trust their own talent and ability to squeeze the ball past the keeper over almost anything or anyone else in the world.

Advertisement

But in situations like Mané was in, where the simplest flick of the boot would’ve almost certainly led to the easiest kind of goal imaginable, to turn down those far better passing options in favor of shooting is crazy. Seriously, that was one of the rare, legitimate must-score scenarios! It would’ve been so easy! In fact it was harder to shoot when and where Mané did, with a man bearing down on him from a bad angle and with his weaker left foot, rather than to poke over a can’t-miss pass! How on earth can you botch that one, man?

The only time that kind of selfishness in the face of much easier scoring options is palatable is when a team is already up big. If Liverpool were winning by four goals at that point and Mané hadn’t scored in a while, maybe then he could be forgiven for thinking a potential individual confidence booster goal was worth more in the long run than a five goal lead in this particular match would’ve been. But this was not the case.

Sure, Liverpool were firmly in control at that point, but it was still only a one-goal margin. Assist that second goal, further demoralize the dejected and outplayed Everton players, open up the game as Everton pushed forward to get back into the game, and maybe then Mané could’ve justified a few more pot shots from distance once the result was more or less secure. But by eschewing a near-lock of a goal when the match was at 1-0 by taking a difficult shot, you leave your team susceptible to bad but not all that uncommon calls from the referees and run the risk of dropping points that at once seemed guaranteed to be yours. Mané will probably watch that play over again knowing what he knows now and feel like shit for not making the pass.

Advertisement

While Liverpool wouldn’t be entirely wrong to write off this weekend’s draw as a fluke created by an overeager ref, the team’s larger structural problem remains. Their midfield still isn’t good enough. At full strength, the Reds’ typical midfield is neither adept at maintaining simple possession to see out games when they have the lead and face pressure from anxious opponents desperate for a result, nor do they do a particularly good job of shielding their defenders when opponents nick the ball and charge down toward goal. When they rotate their midfield, as was the case against Everton when starter Jordan Henderson was joined in the middle of the park by backups James Milner and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, then Liverpool suffer different problems—like the fact that neither Milner nor Ox are natural midfielders, and the former almost always drifts out wide to pick up the ball rather than staying central to present a passing option where he’s supposed to be, while the latter does show for the ball often but tends to play extremely safe when he does get it.

This meant that against Everton, Liverpool were missing a true playmaker in the middle who could play between the lines and get the ball to the runners up front in the positions where they are so deadly. Hence why Liverpool only created a couple legitimately high-quality chances, and why Mané’s bad decision looms so large now. It’s not entirely fair to put this all on Mané’s shoulders, but it’s also hard to avoid that when the evidence feels so convincing. It’s okay though, Mané has won the club enough points by himself to make up for one blunder, even one as egregious one as this.