LONDON • The heat is on for the English Premier League title race and, with champions Manchester City hot on their heels, the next four months will be a stern test of Liverpool's mental fortitude.
But Reds forward Sadio Mane believes his team can cope with the pressure and step up a gear in the run-in to deliver a first league title since 1990.
"We heard what some of the media were saying about us not starting off by playing as fast and exciting as last year, and we felt we weren't at our best ourselves at times," Mane told World Soccer.
"The results have been there, but we know we could have done more with some of our performances.
"We are very competitive, but know there is even more to come, for sure. In many ways, the team is stronger and we have produced some very mature performances.
"Hopefully we will hit our top form when it matters most."
Jurgen Klopp's league leaders, who host Leicester at Anfield today, have a four-point cushion over City but their lead could be cut to a solitary point by the time they kick off, as Pep Guardiola's men faced Newcastle 24 hours earlier.
Defender Virgil van Dijk is a doubt owing to illness. The Dutchman has not trained fully since returning from the club's warm-weather training camp in Dubai.
Senegal international Mane is determined to hold off City and create history for the Merseyside club.
He added: "I can't wait to lift a trophy with Liverpool. I know the fans are desperate for us to win the Premier League.
"It would be an amazing moment for the club. It has been far too long for a team the size of Liverpool.
"We believe we are heading in the right direction, but there are some very tough rivals - City were unbelievable last season and very strong again - but why not?"
The front three of Mane, Roberto Firmino and Mohamed Salah scored a combined 91 goals for Liverpool last season.
The trio were all on target during the frenetic 4-3 victory over Crystal Palace on Jan 19, with Mane's stoppage-time effort ultimately proving to be the winner at Anfield.
And the 26-year-old is confident the trio's telepathic partnership will produce more goals in the title run-in. He said: "I think it just happened naturally. When you have players like Bobby and Mo, they just make everything easier.
"We just seem to instinctively know each other's movement and I think you can see that we enjoy playing together. We want to get even better and score even more goals. Our best is still to come."
Mane was one of eight Liverpool players - including Salah, Firmino, Andy Robertson and Trent Alexander-Arnold - to sign contract extensions to 2023 or beyond in the past eight months. And he revealed that Salah and Firmino were the reasons behind his decision to commit his future to the Reds.
"All I can say is that my only concern is Liverpool. Mo, Bobby… It seemed like everyone was signing contracts and they were saying, 'Hey Sadio, when are you going to sign?'," he said. "I said to each of them, 'Don't worry bro, I will sign'. And what did I do? I signed so they are pleased now."
According to The Times, the contract renewals will cost the club as much as £200 million (S$356 million), and manager Klopp said it is key to retain his best players.
"The club gave us a fantastic opportunity to bring in outstanding players, to keep outstanding players. My job is to make sure we perform on the pitch," the German said after the raft of contract renewals.
LIVERPOOL V LEICESTER
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