It was, Jurgen Klopp said at the time, one of the best halves his Liverpool team had ever played. Sadio Mane was arguably the best player in it, too. He was the scorer of two goals, one the product of pressing, the second with a crisp volley. They went in at half-time 3-0 up on Manchester City in the FA Cup semi-final. That victory is a reason why they reconvene with the Premier League champions in Saturday’s Community Shield.
Mane will not be there. It will be Liverpool’s first competitive game without the Senegalese on their books; in most of those matches, he was on the pitch. Life after Mane starts now and City, against whom he scored four goals last season, may have celebrated his move to Bayern Munich more than most outside Bavaria. That Zack Steffen, the goalkeeper whose pocket Mane picked for his first goal at Wembley, is also gone – exiled on loan to Middlesbrough – does not feel a coincidence but for Liverpool, a dynamic will be different.
An era has ended and the focus on Darwin Nunez’s arrival should not camouflage Mane’s colossal contribution.
Klopp can be sentimental but he stressed the benefits of evolution. “Of course we had to make a little change in our team,” he said. “We lost Sadio who was a fixed line-up player for six years but we cannot only stick together forever; we have to make changes. And when Sadio told us he wanted to face a new challenge because it was early enough we accepted it so we had time to prepare that situation and we did. Now we have to find together again, with the difference one fixed point is gone.”
Minus Mane, Liverpool boast a blend of the new and the old. Klopp is excited by the potential of Fabio Carvalho, the 19-year-old plucked from Fulham. “We will have a lot of fun with him, definitely,” he grinned. But Roberto Firmino, who predated Mane, remains. “Bobby is crucial for us, the heart and soul of this team,” said Klopp. Mane has left but, regardless of Juventus’ interest, Firmino is going nowhere this summer.
Yet Mane may not be the only prominent absentee, and not just because neither Alisson nor Diogo Jota is fit. Liverpool’s trademark intensity could be missing. Arguably April was when they were at their most devastating, defeating City three days before a 4-0 demolition of Manchester United.
They may not have the same eviscerating sharpness now. “We have to extend our pre-season into our season,” Klopp said. Indeed, and in a seeming contradiction, they will play a pre-season friendly after their campaign has begun, with one scheduled following their Premier League opener against Fulham.
Not for the first time, perhaps, they have suffered for their success. They played 64 games last year. The Community Shield has cut into their pre-season and while they have often started campaigns under Klopp with flurries of goals, this may begin with a search for peak condition.
“I like the competition but I think it would be possible to find another date,” said Klopp. “We had a longer season than other teams and now we have a shorter pre-season.” He cited the example from his homeland, where finalists in the German Super Cup are spared participation in the first round of the Cup, as a possible solution.
It is a competition Klopp won in his Dortmund days, though he also suffered two defeats. He has two more in the Community Shield with Liverpool, both on penalties. “We play this final a couple of times and it would be nice if we could win it one time,” he reflected. “It is the last domestic competition we didn’t win so we give it a try.”
He has won six bigger prizes in his time at Anfield, whether the Premier League, the Champions League, the FA Cup, the League Cup, the European Super Cup or the Club World Cup, and Klopp highlighted the Community Shield’s strange status. “If you win it, it is a very important competition and if you lose it, it becomes less important,” he said. And normally when Liverpool meet City, when Klopp faces Pep Guardiola, the significance is not in doubt.