The end of Sadio Mane? What Luis Diaz’s arrival means for Liverpool’s attacking evolution

Liverpool Luis Diaz
(Image credit: Getty)

Liverpool sprung a surprise to complete the signing of Porto winger Luis Diaz - a transfer that few had seen coming, but a welcome addition for the Reds’ longer-term evolution.

It has been suggested that Liverpool were prompted into action when the 25-year-old looked close to a move to Tottenham, leading to Anfield’s new sporting director, Julian Ward, utilising his Portuguese contacts to move swiftly to agree a deal for a player who the club have scouted extensively this season.

Diaz will become the first Colombian to appear for Liverpool and he’ll certainly bring a new energy to their attack, possessing great speed, technical quality and an eye for the extravagant.

“He is an outstanding player and somebody we have been tracking for a very long time,” said Jurgen Klopp. “We believe he has everything needed to fit into our way and adapt to the Premier League, both physically and mentally.”

Basic descriptions of Diaz focus on him being a right-footed left-winger who cuts inside, which immediately reminds you of another player at Liverpool: Sadio Mane. 

With all the talk focussing on Mohamed Salah’s contract expiring next year, the fact that Mane, too, is also into his final 18 months has been somewhat overlooked.

Add in that the Senegalese will be 31 when his contract expires in summer 2023, plus some mixed form in the past two seasons, and it’s easy to see why two plus two could equal five after Diaz’s arrival.

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When Liverpool added Diogo Jota in 2020, it was seen as a much-needed added depth to their attacking options, reducing some of the reliance on the fabled front three of Mane, Salah and Roberto Firmino. Now, with Diaz’s arrival, the question is over whether Klopp, who is well known for preferring a small, tight-knit squad, could carry five high-quality forward options. It seems somewhat unlikely.

Add in that Liverpool as a football club are a self-running business and it would make a lot of sense to sell one of their front three, with Firmino now 30 and Salah and Mane hitting that milestone this year. Indeed, it would actually make little sense to keep all three of them and give them all new contracts into their mid-thirties. One, surely, must go, and Diaz’s arrival does make it look like that one will be Mane.

Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane

(Image credit: Getty)

Liverpool are, of course, looking to keep Salah with a new, bumper, contract for the best player in the world. Firmino, already, has become more of a squad player and could likely be given an extension that would see him continue as such.

Mane, though, is in the middle ground. His prime years are behind him, but he remains an extremely high-quality attacker that European signs would certainly pay good money for - you could recruit a large part of the fee paid out for Diaz, who will be on half the wages too. It would make sense for Liverpool to sell him while his stock remains high and before his contract enters its final 12 months. A year from now, he’d be free to sign a pre-contract agreement with a European side.

Such decisions are tough, but they’re also savvy. Arsene Wenger was somewhat of a master of selling players at just beyond their peak but before their stock fell, then reinvesting that into a younger player. Liverpool need to do that in order to continue to evolve and refresh their side as the players who took them to European and domestic titles hit their 30s.

Liverpool's frontline: Adaptation period and primetime

In the short term, Diaz’s arrival could be the best thing that happens for Mane. There’s nothing like some new competition for places to spur a player into form. And perhaps even Mane realises this is his final season he’ll be eager to end his stunning six years at the club on a high.

Meanwhile, Klopp rarely puts a player straight into the Liverpool side, with an adaptation period to fine-tune their pressing game, in particular, something that is common in recent years. This is something Diaz will need to learn.

In Mane, he has the perfect example to learn from. And with Liverpool still competing on all four fronts, there will be plenty of need for rotation of the attackers. Diaz could even make his debut in the FA Cup tie against Cardiff on Sunday, with Mane potentially in Africa Cup of Nations action the same day if Senegal make the final.

Diaz’s arrival, meanwhile, also points perhaps to Jota’s future role being more central than on the left. The Portuguese has made 20 of his 28 appearances this season as the centre-forward, scoring an impressive 10 goals in those 20 games for the striker-sought tally of one-in-two.

Jota, at 25, is the same age as Diaz. When Liverpool signed Salah he was 25, while Mane was acquired at age 24 and Firmino at 23. They’d all followed a similar path, proving themselves with a European team before being recruited by Liverpool just before they were about to hit their prime years.

And as Klopp plans for both his final two seasons and life after his departure in 2024, a new Liverpool must evolve. Diaz and Jota will be key parts of that.

It isn’t quite "out with the old, in with the new" - but time changes, teams must evolve and new versions must emerge.

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Matt Ladson is the co-founder and editor of This Is Anfield, the independent Liverpool news and comment website, and covers all areas of the Reds for FourFourTwo – including transfer analysis, interviews, title wins and European trophies. As well as writing about Liverpool for FourFourTwo he also contributes to other titles including Yahoo and Bleacher Report. He is a lifelong fan of the Reds.