Sadio Mane double lifts Liverpool over Spurs and brings smiles back at Anfield
Liverpool celebrates a goal by Sadio Mane (second left) against Tottenham at Anfield. AP

LIVERPOOL, England — The smiles were back at Anfield on Saturday and none was wider than Sadio Mane's.

While the Senegal forward was at the African Cup of Nations in January, his Liverpool teammates plunged into a prolonged slump that has cost them any realistic chance of winning the English Premier League.

Now he's back and scoring goals — his quickfire first-half double earned Liverpool a 2-0 win over second-place Tottenham on Saturday — the gloom might just be lifting around Juergen Klopp's team.

"How can a club smile when you lose games?" Klopp said. "Everything changes in days — now we have a fantastic team, fantastic players, fantastic manager. I'm happy everybody was ready to smile again tonight."

For that, Liverpool had Mane to thank.

The beneficiary of Liverpool's fierce pressing game in midfield, Mane scored goals on the transition in the 16th and 18th minutes as Spurs were blown away in the first half. Mane could easily have scored four goals by halftime.

"Of course, we missed Sadio in January," Klopp said. "Any team in the world would have."

That winless five-match run to start 2017 dropped Liverpool from being Chelsea's closest challenger in second place to outside the top four and suddenly a doubt for Champions League qualification. Mane's absence coincided with the slump in form, with Liverpool losing its attacking shape and its biggest bundle of energy.

Spurs simply couldn't live with him here as they fell to only their third loss in the league. If Chelsea beats Burnley on Sunday, Tottenham would be 12 points behind the leaders with 13 games left.

"It's difficult to fight for the Premier League if you show that performance," Tottenham manager Mauricio Pochettino said. "There was a lack of aggression and desire to play for a win."

Liverpool climbed to fourth ahead of Manchester City, which plays Bournemouth on Monday.

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Mane's first goal came courtesy of a pinpoint through-ball by Georginio Wijnaldum, after Liverpool forced a turnover and then created space in central midfield with a neat one-two between Wijnaldum and Roberto Firmino. Mane outpaced Ben Davies to latch onto the pass and showed composure to lift his finish beyond Hugo Lloris from inside the area.

Home celebrations had barely died down when Tottenham's midfield was again picked off, Mane led a counterattack, Firmino had a shot saved, and Mane slammed the rebound high into the net from eight meters.

"We controlled the game from beginning to end," Mane said.

Mane was the star but this was a dominant team performance from Liverpool.

Wijnaldum ran the midfield, which isn't an easy task when you are up against Mousa Dembele and Victor Wanyama, and Firmino harassed Tottenham's defense all game. Liverpool goalkeeper Simon Mignolet was barely troubled.

Klopp lived and breathed every action in his inimitable style in the technical area and he warmly embraced each of his players after the final whistle. It was like the first half of the season all over again.

"We had to show a reaction," Klopp said, "and it was perfect."

 

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