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EXCITING MANE TAKING THE PREMIER LEAGUE BY STORM

The aftermath of Chelsea’s 3-1 defeat to Southampton on Saturday was inevitably dominated by talk of Jose Mourinho and the Blues’ ongoing failings. The Saints, though, deserve plenty of credit for a comfortable victory at Stamford Bridge, with one of the visitors’ players putting in a particularly excellent performance.

Sadio Mane impressed in his debut season in 2014/15 after arriving on the south coast from Red Bull Salzburg last summer. His astonishing three-minute hat-trick against Aston Villa in May was the highlight of the campaign, but there were many other moments of brilliance from the Senegal international.

He has continued in a similar vein so far this term, with his superb showing on Saturday further alerting fans to his exceptional potential. The 23-year-old was outstanding from start to finish, scoring one goal, assisting another and generally running a below-par Chelsea outfit ragged.

The first thing that tends to get mentioned in discussions of Mane is his pace and strength, but it would be unfair to praise a player who possesses wonderful natural technique solely for his physical gifts. Mane, indeed, displayed some terrific footwork and close control on Saturday, and was unlucky not to win a first-half penalty after being brought down in the area by Ramires.

The Brazilian was the man chosen by Mourinho to play as the hosts’ holding midfielder, a role Ramires did not appear to relish: the 28-year-old’s best attributes are his energy and running power, and he seemed uncomfortable at being asked to hold a disciplined position in front of the back four.

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Mane took full advantage of Ramires’ struggles, sometimes dragging him wide and deep when the Chelsea man chose to man-mark him and, on other occasions, collecting the ball goal-side of the Blues’ No. 7.

It was therefore no surprise when Ramires was taken off at half-time; unfortunately for Chelsea, though, his replacement Nemanja Matic also struggled to get a handle on the lively Senegalese, with Mane soon adding his side’s second and laying on their third for Graziano Pelle.

Mane’s partnership of sorts with the big Italian centre-forward was something of a throwback to some of the little-and-large strike duos from days gone by: while Mane played in the No. 10 role behind Pelle, he often got very close to his team-mate and made runs beyond him to help stretch the Chelsea backline. Pelle, an excellent target man but not the most mobile of players, benefited from Mane’s vertical movement, and enjoyed a fine evening at Stamford Bridge himself.

“I’ve known him since he was a kid so to see him doing so well is fantastic,” Mady Toure, the founder of the Generation Foot academy that Mane once belonged to, told the Guardian in 2014. “Today we talk about Messi and Neymar but honestly I don’t think these players are as good as Sadio Mane.”

Such an assertion is bold at best and ridiculous at worst but, while Mane is currently nowhere near the levels of the Barcelona duo mentioned by his representative, it would be accurate to label him one of the most exciting and promising youngsters in the Premier League.

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If he can keep progressing at his current rate and continue to develop under the guidance of Southampton boss Ronald Koeman, Mane will be playing Champions League football before too long.

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