Mane the magnificent: Liverpool's Senegalese star sees off Manchester City to secure FA Cup final spot

20:05 EAT 16/04/2022
Trent Alexander-Arnold Sadio Mane Liverpool 2021-22
The Reds forward netted twice as Jurgen Klopp's side held out for a 3-2 win at Wembley to maintain their hopes of winning an unprecedented quadruple

Match statistics: Manchester City 2-3 Liverpool

You didn’t think Jurgen Klopp was going to forget, did you?

The Liverpool boss had almost reached the tunnel. He was heading for the dressing room, smiling and waving. Happy as Larry.

But then, with a swivel of the hips and a turn of pace Sadio Mane or Mohamed Salah would have been proud of, he was off.

The cameras struggled to keep up with him as he charged towards the fans behind the goal. They loved it.

Out came the fist pumps. One, two, three. A beat of the Liver Bird upon his chest, one, two, three.

That is what this win meant. The FA Cup may not be what it once was, but it can still get the blood pumping and the heart racing. It is still a competition to cherish and enjoy, whatever anyone says.

Liverpool’s quadruple dream is still alive while Manchester City’s treble quest is over. It is the Reds who will return for next month’s final against either Chelsea or Crystal Palace, after a 3-2 win that was as deserved and well-received as it was nervy come the final minutes.

You could not have gotten a cigarette paper between the sides at the Etihad Stadium last week, or at Anfield in October for that matter, but the third instalment went Liverpool’s way, thanks to a first-half blitz from Klopp’s side.

Ibrahima Konate headed them in front early, the centre-back’s third goal in as many games, before Mane took them into dreamland before half time.

The Senegal star struck twice, and though City inevitably, and impressively, rallied after the break, jangling Liverpudlian nerves through Jack Grealish and Bernardo Silva goals, it was they who were left on the floor at the final whistle.

How significant a result this will prove to be in the context of the rest of the season, only time will tell, but it feels like a big blow landed from the Red corner.

City may have restored some pride in the second half, but all of a sudden it is their squad which looks the weaker of the two, heading into the final weeks of the campaign.

Liverpool had the game’s star men. Konate justified his selection alongside Virgil van Dijk at the back, Thiago Alcantara ran things in midfield and Luis Diaz was a constant menace against Joao Cancelo.

It was Mane, though, who proved decisive, and it was no surprise when, shortly before Bernardo had made it 3-2 in the first minute of stoppage time, it was the Senegal star who was named by the stadium announcer as the Player of the Match.

Starting in the middle of Liverpool’s front three, the 30-year-old, who scored the all-important leveller in last weekend’s Premier League draw, was a threat from the word go.

Backed up ably by Diaz and Salah, and a midfield which functioned far better and with far more purpose than it did six days ago, Mane pressed City early and pressed them hard.

And for once, Guardiola’s side could not cope.

Liverpool already led courtesy of Konate’s ninth-minute header when a ball was played back to Zack Steffen, City’s stand-in goalkeeper. The United States international had time, but he wanted too much of it. Mane, smelling blood, closed in.

As Steffen went to clear, Mane slid in and got his tackle just right, the ball ricocheting into the net and leaving City’s fans, and their players, shellshocked.

Two up inside 19 minutes, Liverpool were purring, and before half-time they were partying, Mane adding another with a beautifully-controlled, and perfectly-placed, volley from Thiago’s astute pass.

Some finish, some player.

His threat continued after the break, even though City had an instant lifeline when Grealish lashed in from Gabriel Jesus’ pass.

Guardiola’s side had chances, but twice Alisson denied Jesus. At the other end, Liverpool were wasteful with good positions, and seemed to enter conservation mode after the hour mark.

Not Mane, mind. He was everywhere, a ball of energy. He tangled with Cancelo, took a blow from Fernandinho and gave one back. A booking each, said referee Michael Oliver. No backward step from the Liverpool man.

Time and again, his control and strength got his side up the field. Time and again, City struggled to deal with it. When he made way for Roberto Firmino, five minutes from time, he got a standing ovation. He deserved it.

City still had time to make a routine finish a tense one, Bernardo smashing in from substitute Riyad Mahrez’s cross. Fernandinho, Mahrez and Raheem Sterling all had sights of an equaliser in stoppage time, as did Salah and Firmino, but in the end it finished 3-2.

The noise when the final whistle came would have been heard all the way in Anfield, for sure. Klopp and Guardiola embraced again, their mutual respect undamaged. They may well meet again in May’s Champions League final in Paris, of course.

That is for another day, though. That can wait. Today belonged to Liverpool, and to Mane.