Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp has told forward Sadio Mane to “pay back with football” any opponents who target him on the pitch.
Klopp feels the Senegal international appears to have become the player some teams single out for specific treatment in an attempt to antagonise and knock him off his game.
The German was involved in an angry touchline exchange with Mikel Arteta in last weekend’s 4-0 win over Arsenal at Anfield after the Gunners boss reacted to a seemingly innocuous challenge by the forward on full-back Takehiro Tomiyasu.
That came just a couple of weeks after Klopp was forced to substitute Mane at half-time of their Champions League win over Atletico Madrid as he feared – much like when the teams met in 2020 – that apparent gamesmanship from the Spanish side would get the player sent off.
Klopp has previously also called out Real Madrid and Flamengo for what he perceived were similar tactics and while Premier League opponents appear less focused on Mane, his manager has felt the need to speak to the player.
“For sure for much longer it was a thing, even when it was not obvious to the outside,” said Klopp on Mane’s treatment.
“You can see it in games they go for him because they want to wind him up, even if it is not that obvious.
“But it is two different things; one is to make Sadio be really aggressive during the game, we saw that against Flamengo in the Club World Cup final.
“Rafinha wanted to go for him after he caused them some problems when we played Bayern in the Champions League, it was obvious from the first second.
“But Sadio is now of an age where he is not that emotional any more. But we all need emotions obviously and sometimes we control them better and sometimes less.
“Yes we’ve had these talks. I really don’t think it had anything to do with the situation against Arsenal, it was pretty much nothing, a normal challenge.
“The headline (from his conversation with Mane) is, ‘We pay back with football’. Whatever we do, we pay them back with football.”
Mane comes up against former side Southampton at home on Saturday having rediscovered some form after a difficult year last season.
He has nine goals in 17 matches this season but has scored in seven of his last eight Anfield league appearances and in each of the last four.
“I think we can judge Sadio as an individual, as a world-class player, so that is it, it’s not against Mo (Salah) or whatever,” added Klopp.
“You see the numbers: Mo has 108 goals (in the Premier League) and Sadio has 102 – most of them for Liverpool but obviously some (21) with Southampton – so it just shows what those two guys did in the last few years for us.
“With Sadio, nothing was needed really, when you think about last season and this season.
“I didn’t have long talks with Sadio or anything like that. Sadio is a very confident person and we all felt on the first day of pre-season, after a proper break, he was completely 100 per cent there.
“It was obvious that if he was lucky with injuries it would be a really good season for him because that is the quality he has and that is what he shows now.”