The international break is always a nervous time for club managers as they watch on and hope their players make it back to the team in one piece. For the most part things were looking good for Liverpool, and then disaster struck late on Saturday for Sadio Mane.
“The winger was substituted 89 minutes into Senegal’s 2-0 World Cup qualifying win over the Cape Verde Islands on Saturday,” said a Liverpool statement. “And it has now been confirmed that he picked up an injury during that fixture that could keep him out of action for up to six weeks.”
Six weeks is a long time in football, and it just so happens to come at a terrible time for Liverpool as they face Manchester United and Tottenham in their next two Premier League games. Six weeks puts him back just in time for Liverpool’s match with Chelsea on November 25th, with one little setback putting that game at risk as well.
Liverpool, currently sitting seventh in the Premier League, can ill-afford to drop points against the rest of the “big six” in such a tight race for the Champions League places, never mind the Premier League title itself.
What do Liverpool lose without Mane?
Liverpool are at their best on the counter, where Mane’s speed across the pitch, as well as his speed of thought, are devastating to opponents. Since making the move from Southampton, Liverpool have averaged 2.2 goals a game with Mane in the lineup, compared to 1.6 goals without him.
Liverpool are used to live without the star winger though, a meniscus tear in April and a red card in September means he has been absent from the first-team for a while, but when the trio of Mane, Mo Salah, and Roberto Firmino are on the field together Liverpool pose a threat to every team, even one as stingy as Manchester United’s.
Who will cover for Mane?
Liverpool have advanced Philippe Coutinho into the front three to fill in for Mane before, opening up space for Emre Can and James Milner in the midfield, but they have a couple of other options that are intriguing.
Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain can pose the same threat with his incredible speed, though he lacks the finishing and killer instinct of Mane. Coutinho would perhaps provide the most attacking versatility, but taking him away from the middle of the park would be an issue for the overall balance and perhaps isolate him.
Another option is youngster Ben Woodburn, who’s only appearance so far for his club this season is in the Carabao Cup, but his impact for Wales has demonstrated his qualities, and blooding the youngster in coming games against West Ham or the Champions League ties against NK Maribor would be a wise decision for Jurgen Klopp and Liverpool’s future.
We know that Liverpool are better with Mane on the field, and they have a lot of other deficiencies away from their terrific front three. His talents are vital to the team, and without him their chances of taking a good points haul from their games with United and Spurs are severely less.
Let’s just hope that the break has given Klopp time to fix some of the defensive frailties.
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