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Sadio Mane backs Liverpool to maintain title charge as he heads for Senegal duty

Sadio Mane has backed his Liverpool team-mates to maintain the pace in the Premier League title race while he is away on African Nations Cup duty.

Mane headed off to join up with the Senegal squad after Monday's 2-2 draw with Sunderland with mixed feelings after looking to have snatched victory at the Stadium of Light before handing the Black Cats a point by conceding a late penalty.

However, the Reds emerged from their three games inside seven days over the festive period with seven points to keep themselves in second place and on the tail of leaders Chelsea.

Mane will look on from afar for the next few weeks from the international tournament, which gets under way in Gabon on January 14, but he is confident his club will still be going strong on his return.

He told LFC TV: "It won't be easy for me to leave because I would like to help them until the end of the season.

"But I wish them good luck. We have a strong team and I think it won't be a problem. They will do it.

"I think we are in a good position. The draw is okay, but now the most important thing is the reaction. Everybody knows that and we are ready for the next game."

That next league game, which will follow cup clashes with Plymouth and Southampton, is a trip to in-form Manchester United, who secured a seventh successive win in all competitions at West Ham on Monday.

Liverpool will head for Old Trafford unbeaten in six league outings, but having seen a fifth victory on the trot wrenched from their grasp on Wearside.

They led through Daniel Sturridge's 20th-minute header, but were pegged back when Ragnar Klavan tripped Didier Ndong inside the box and Jermain Defoe levelled from the spot.

Mane's tap-in 18 minutes from time looked to have secured the points, but he blocked Sebastian Larsson's goal-bound free-kick with his hand with six minutes remaining and Defoe obliged once again from 12 yards.

Manager Jurgen Klopp had no complaints about the penalty decisions - although he did bemoan his side's luck at referee Anthony Taylor spotting both offences.

But he was less than happy at the award of the free-kick which led to the second spot-kick, particularly as he felt a foul on Sturridge at the other end of the pitch had gone unpunished seconds earlier.

Mane, however, admitted the official had got the big decision right.

He said: "The guy pushed me a little bit and I lost my control and touched the ball with my hand. It was a penalty.

"We are leaving disappointed because it's not what we expected. We were winning and we played well and created many chances.

"But after all, you have to score and we didn't score, so it was a little bit of a problem. One point - we have to accept it and prepare for the next game."

Liverpool's disappointment was compounded by ankle and calf injuries respectively to Sturridge and James Milner, although Klopp revealed after the game that, like Jordan Henderson, who missed out against his former club with a heel problem, their absences are unlikely to be lengthy.

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