The next couple of weeks are going to be crucial for Liverpool’s season as they attempt to bounce back from a disappointing run of form with back-to-back Premier League matches against other top-six sides. Their next two league fixtures are against Manchester United and Tottenham. Although they are still in touching distance with the leading pack, two losses would provide a significant setback, especially given they have won only one of their last seven matches across all competitions.
Jurgen Klopp will feel that the international break came at a good time for his side as they were in the midst of an awful run of results. However, they have been dealt a major blow as Sadio Mane has suffered a hamstring injury during a match for Senegal. Given his travelling, he may not have started the match against Manchester United anyway, but BBC Sport report that the attacker will be missing for up to six weeks. This rules him out of the two important Premier League matches coming up, as well as a number of other fixtures.
Last season, Liverpool struggled for the periods that Mane was unavailable for and that will be a concern heading into the next six weeks. During his three-match suspension in September, the Reds failed to win two of the three matches which provides further evidence for the theory that the Senegal attacker is the most important player in their attack. However, they did manage to beat Leicester City and that was their only victory since the end of August. That will provide hope that they can pick up results in his absence.
Mane is currently on a high after he received a nomination for the Ballon d’Or. He will see this as a bad time to pick up an injury as it does see his momentum stall for the time being. This season, aside from the red card, has started well for him, as he has scored three goals in five matches. He is currently scoring at a rate of one every 121.7 minutes, which is an impressive strike rate considering the team has yet to hit top form.
Can they replace him?
Jurgen Klopp will be disappointed that the injury has come at this time, but the Reds are now better prepared to cope without Mane. During the summer, they added Mohamed Salah, who is the player most similar to the Senegal attacker in the squad. The new signing has contributed four goals and one assist in the Premier League already, with a goal involvement every 103 minutes. His end product lacks consistency, but his pace and dynamism means that he will be crucial for the period of time that his fellow attacker is missing for.
Although Salah will take on a more prominent role, he was already a regular in the starting eleven and it will be interesting to see how the team lines up in Mane’s absence. Against Leicester, they started with a front three of Philippe Coutinho, Roberto Firmino and Salah. This is likely to be the make-up of the attack for the foreseeable future.
This will mean that Coutinho is shifted to left-wing and Emre Can will be given an opportunity to reclaim his spot in the centre of midfield. Many believe the Brazilian is less effective in a wide position, but the alternative is to put Firmino out wide and that is not beneficial to the team. No other player has been effective in the centre-forward role. Daniel Sturridge is a great player, but he doesn’t offer enough in Klopp’s system.
Firmino is excellent at making intelligent runs to open up space for his team-mates to exploit. His finishing may not be as effective as Liverpool want it to be, but his overall game is reason enough to keep him in a central position. During the match against Newcastle, Sturridge was wasteful and offered little to the build-up play. After that performance, Klopp is unlikely to start with him again anytime soon, regardless of the injury to Mane.
The injury comes at a bad time, but Liverpool should have enough squad depth to be competitive at the very least. Salah’s arrival means that Mane is not as integral as he once was. They managed to pick up a win without him against Leicester City and if they are to challenge at the top of the league, they will need to replicate that success during the next set of matches.