(Reuters) – Liverpool manager Juergen Klopp hailed Sadio Mane’s versatility after the Senegal forward scored to help his side secure a 2-0 win over Villarreal in the first leg of their Champions League semi-final on Wednesday.
Mane, again playing in a more central role like he did in Premier League wins over Manchester United and Everton, scored in the 55th minute, shortly after an own goal had given Liverpool a second-half lead.
The 30-year-old has scored 20 goals in 44 appearances for Liverpool this season, including six in his last seven, as the club seek to secure an unprecedented quadruple.
“He can play left, he can play central, both positions world class,” Klopp told reporters when asked why Mane has played centrally in recent weeks.
“He started for us here at Liverpool on the right wing. Some people in the room will remember his goal at Arsenal when it was his first goal, when he cut inside and fired the ball with his left foot into the far corner. Absolutely outstanding, love it.
“There are different ways that Sadio plays and sometimes we want him to drop slightly more, but today we wanted him to stay even more between the centre-halves, keep them away and offer the runs in behind. He has the skillset for it …”
Mane’s goal was his 14th in the Champions League knockout stages, the joint-most of any African player along with Didier Drogba. He also helped Senegal to a first Africa Cup of Nations title in February and scored the winning spot-kick in a shootout that secured them a spot at this year’s World Cup finals.
Klopp said that Mane could be in line to win the Ballon d’Or if Liverpool win the Champions League.
“If you are not (Lionel) Messi or (Cristiano) Ronaldo you have to win probably the Champions League, which we didn’t do yet so give us a few more weeks and then we will see where we end up,” he said.
(Reporting by Aadi Nair in Bengaluru; Editing by Peter Rutherford)