In terms of drama, Ismaila Sarr’s match-winning performance to end Liverpool’s run of 44 Premier League games unbeaten didn’t quite match Ruud van Nistelrooy’s penalty kick to beat Arsenal’s legendary ‘Invincibles’ in the now infamous game played at Old Trafford back in October 2004, but the Watford winger’s brace will be remembered for a long time to come.
Indeed, it was one of the individual performances of the Premier League season so far.
Liverpool, a team that until their trip to Vicarage Road had won 26 of their 27 fixtures over the 2019/20 campaign, just couldn’t cope with the 22-year-old. In the end, the champions-elect were fortunate only to conceded twice to the Senegalese international such was his potency throughout.
In time, Sarr’s performance against Liverpool might not be remembered for its impact in ending the Reds’ unbeaten run, but for the way it announced the arrival of a future Premier League superstar. Saturday might prove to be the start of the rest of the Senegalese winger’s career at the elite level of the game.
He has all the qualities and traits to make it at the top.
Sarr’s most obvious strength is his pace. Dejan Lovren knows all about that having suffered a night to forget up against the 22-year-old. But it’s with his movement that Sarr does the most damage, making runs in behind and down the channels that opposition defenders find almost impossible to track.
Comparisons have been drawn with Sadio Mane and there are indeed parallels between the two players. “Sadio is talking to me all the time,” Sarr revealed in a recent interview, talking about the relationship with his international teammate. “He advises me to ‘do this, do that’. He is a big brother for me.
“When I arrived, he sent messages saying ‘welcome to the Premier League, welcome to England’ and we also talk when we are in the national team. He gives me tips, I try to execute them and to implement them. ‘If you don’t play, be calm, carry on, do your job, it will be OK’, that is what he says. So I try to do the same. If I do not play, no problem. I come and work on the following day.”
Just like Mane, Sarr is versatile in the way he can play in almost every position across the forward line. And just like Mane, Sarr isn’t an archetypal winger, possessing many qualities that are normally associated with a centre forward. The 22-year-old’s recent performances hint that his goalscoring could soar in the right team with the right support system.
These are traits that make Sarr an extremely valuable asset. Of course, he has already drawn a hefty transfer fee, breaking Watford’s transfer record in making a £30 million move from Rennes last summer, but it might not be long before he attracts even bigger offers. Sarr is almost certainly on the radar of some of Europe’s biggest clubs, and with good reason.
It took some time for Sarr to find his feet in the Premier League following his summer move from Rennes, but his goal in Watford’s 2-0 win over Manchester United just before Christmas proved to be a turning point, with the winger only getting better and better since then. On this trajectory, he will be among the Premier League’s best difference-makers by next season, if he is not already at that point.
Of course, Sarr still has a role to play in ensuring Watford are a Premier League club for next season. Not so long ago, the Hornets looked dead and buried at the foot of the table, set for relegation to the Championship. The appointment of Nigel Pearson has sparked a revival, with Watford now out of the bottom three, winning five of their last 11 league games.
But the form of Sarr, who has scored four himself and assisted three more in his last eight Premier League appearances, has also pulled Watford away from danger. This could prove to be the making of a player that not only possesses the technical ability to succeed, but the mindset and mental strength to become a talent around which a team can be built.
Wingers in the modern game are no longer just wingers. Mane has become the embodiment of this in recent years, scoring more goals than any other Liverpool player since the start of 2019. Sarr has a long way to before he is of the same level as his compatriot, but the signs are there that he could follow a similar path.
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