Liverpool’s Sadio Mané has been named the PFA Fans’ Premier League Player of the Month for August and September after a blistering start to he’s Liverpool career. At the time of he’s transfer, fans might not have known that Liverpool could possibly be without their star man potentially for up to a month.
Sadio Mané represents Senegal at a national level and as such, he would be obligated to join he’s national team at the upcoming African Nations Cup (AFCON 2017).
Some background on the Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON); The competition is the main international football competition in Africa and is sanctioned by the Confederation of African Football (CAF).
It was first held in 1957 and since 1968 it has been held every two years. The tournament consists of 16 teams drawn into 4 groups of 4, with the top two teams advancing to the knock-out stages. As of 2013, the tournament was switched to being held in odd-numbered years so as not to clash with the FIFA World Cup. The winner of the tournament qualifies for the 2017 FIFA Confederations Cup in Russia.
The next iteration of the tournament (the 31st edition of the AFCON) will take place in Gabon. It was initially scheduled to take place in Libya until CAF decided to withdraw hosting rights due to ongoing war in Libya. Gabon’s current team captain is none other than Dortmund’s Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang.
The Tournament and Qualification
The following teams have qualified for AFCON 2017 which is due to run from 14 January – 5 February 2017
The draw will take place on the 19th of October 2016 after which the fixtures will be decided. Senegal will be in pot 3 along with Cameroon, Morocco and Egypt.
Senegal boast an impressive selection of players with the likes of Idrissa Gana Geuye (Everton), Sadio Mané (Liverpool), Mohamed Diame (Newcastle) and Cheikhou Kouyate (West Ham) from England as well as Kalidou Koulibaly (Napoli) and Moussa Saw (Fenerbahce) to name a few.
Senegal won their group to qualify for the tournament which would see them take part for the 14th time; they topped group K with 18 points after playing 6 matches. Qualifications took place between June 2015 and September 2016 and Sadio Mané scored 3 goals for he’s country. Their best performance was finishing runners up in 2002, losing 3-2 on penalties to Cameroon; a team which included former Liverpool “great” Rigobert Song.
Sadio Mané and Liverpool
Liverpool fans were split on Mane signing; some doubting he’s quality whilst others questioned the price. After just 6 games, fans appear to be in agreement that the energy and attacking threat Sadio brings to the Liverpool forwards is crucial to the team’s league progression. Before he signed though there was the notion that Liverpool would be without their Senegalese play maker during the AFCON.
What does this mean for Liverpool FC?
The AFCON tournament runs from the 14th of January to the 5th February 2017; assuming Senegal progress to the final, Liverpool will be without Mané for the following fixtures:
14 January 2017 – Manchester United (A)
21 January 2017 – Swansea City (H)
1 February 2017 – Chelsea (H)
4 February 2017 – Hull City (A)
These fixtures are subject to change as other tournaments and opponent schedules could result in a change of fixture date.
This block of fixtures would require Liverpool to field their strongest team and get maximum points if they want to be serious title contenders. The match versus Manchester United appears unavoidable as it’s at the start of the AFCON tournament. “This” match is one fans would have looked forward to when the fixtures were released originally.
No one can say where Liverpool will be positioned in the league at this point however beating a potential title challenger always helps the cause. Ironically the fixtures mirror opponents LFC have already faced or are due to face very soon. Mané featured in victories over Hull and Chelsea with Swansea and Man Utd next up for the Reds in the league.
As with any Liverpool player we need to respect their decision to represent their country; as the season goes on Sadio Mané looks to be a vital cog in the machine Jürgen Klopp has put together to challenge for the title. I believe the manager realises that the team does not and should not depend on a single player and we’ve seen evidence that players can come in, off the bench or from youth teams and fulfil the role left by the vacant player. It’s too early to say; let’s relish in the great performances Sadio is currently putting in, let’s encourage the rest of the squad to push themselves to maintain high standards. Klopp’s philosophy and ideals, once fully embedded in the team should shine through irrespective of the starting XI and that philosophy will lead LFC to greater things.