Liverpool have been dealt a major blow during the international break as Sadio Mane has picked up a hamstring injury while away with Senegal. BBC Sport report that the forward could be set to miss up to six weeks action, which comes at the worst possible time for the Reds. They are in the midst of a disappointing run of results, having won only once in their last six fixtures across all competitions. It isn’t only their poor form that is a worry, but their upcoming fixtures. Their next two Premier League matches are against Manchester United and Tottenham. Although they aren’t must-wins at this stage, it would be a body blow if they were to lose both matches.
Last season, Liverpool were a worse team when Sadio Mane was out either through injury or away on international duty. In September, he missed three matches due to suspension and the Reds failed to win two of them. The pace and dynamism that he adds to the front-line makes the team more threatening. This was something that they couldn’t replace last season, but the signing of Mohamed Salah during the summer means that they now have another attacker with similar qualities. They will be looking at the Egyptian to step up over the next two Premier League games especially as pace on the counter will be crucial to Jurgen Klopp’s game-plan.
Mane has recently been nominated for the Ballon D’Or and he will be upset that this injury means his progression will be halted once more. In the Premier League this season, he has scored three goals in five matches and has picked off where he ended last season, albeit the red card against Manchester City was a disappointment. His underlying stats of 2.73 total shots and 0.99 chances created per ninety minutes may not seem great, but he always poses a goal threat and Liverpool will be a poorer team without him in the starting eleven.
How will they replace Mane?
They have two options available to them. Klopp can either bring in a midfielder and move Philippe Coutinho to a left-wing position or they can replace him with another attacker, which will cause Roberto Firmino to move to the wing. Last month when they were missing Mane, they chose to do the latter during their home draw to Burnley and then opted for the former for their away win over Leicester City. Neither were flawless displays, but the fact that they won with Coutinho at left-wing means that Liverpool are likely to do that during the Senegalese international’s absence this time around.
The main problem that they currently have is that Roberto Firmino seems to be the only player in the current squad that is able to play the centre-forward position well in Klopp’s system. His movement off the ball is excellent and he creates space for the other attackers to exploit. Although his finishing is sometimes criticised, Liverpool are a better team when he is playing in that role. Daniel Sturridge’s link-up play was poor against Newcastle United and the decision to start him up front was one that looked a poor one in hindsight. It seems unlikely that they will start him against Manchester United even Mane is injured. A front three of Coutinho, Firmino and Salah is the way to go.