Belfast Telegraph

Mané insists his absence won't hinder the Liverpool charge for title


BY Simon Hughes

Liverpool's injury problems in attack are easing. Daniel Sturridge returned on Monday night, performing a crucial role in the 1-0 victory over Everton, while Philippe Coutinho should be in the squad when Manchester City visit Anfield on New Year's Eve.

Now, the issue Jürgen Klopp faces relates to availability.

Sadio Mané, who scored Liverpool's injury time winner at Goodison Park, is expected to fly to Senegal to meet up with his national team squad on January 3 ahead of the Africa Cup of Nations tournament in Gabon.

Since becoming the most expensive signing in African history by joining Liverpool from Southampton for £34million last summer, Mané has emerged as a key figure in Klopp's team, the player with the speed and ability to turn a bad pass into a good one; someone that enables Liverpool to their turn possession football into a counter-attack.

His loss could be felt even greater than Coutinho's recent absence because he offers something that others in Klopp's squad do not and the Reds' boss is currently looking at his options in the transfer market as a consequence.

"It will not be easy for me to go with Senegal next month," Mané admitted.

"I would love to carry on playing with my team-mates and help my team, but I think they will understand because it is my country and it is my dream."

Senegal have group games on January 15 with Tunisia, on January 19 with Zimbabwe and January 23 with Algeria.

Should they progress to the quarter finals and get knocked out there, he will be available to Liverpool again from January 30 at the latest.

The semi-finals mean February 3; the final, held in Libreville, is scheduled to take place on February 5, with a third-place play off the day before.

Senegal are one of the favourites in the competition.

Should they go all the way, he could miss as many as seven Liverpool games - an FA Cup tie at home to Plymouth Argyle or Newport County, both legs of the League Cup semi-final with Southampton, trips to Manchester United and Hull City and then home fixtures against Swansea City and most crucially, perhaps, the current table-toppers, Chelsea.

Mané is insistent Liverpool can deal with his absence and believes Sturridge's return to fitness to be hugely significant.

"I will be wishing them good luck, but without me the team will be the same, even better I think," he said, generously.

"They will cope. Coutinho will come back. [Joel] Matip will come back and Sturridge is back now.

"I am very happy for him, it has not been easy for him being out, he has had a lot of injuries.

"But you know he can deliver important performances for the team. That is why the team will be strong."

Chelsea, Manchester City and Tottenham Hotspur are the Premier League clubs competing at the top that are likely to be unaffected by international call-ups next month.

While Arsenal will have to do without Mohamed Elneny, the Egyptian midfielder, Manchester United's Eric Bailly (left) could get selected for Ivory Coast.

Leicester are likely to be the most affected side. Claudio Ranieri faces the prospect of losing four players - Algerian pair Riyad Mahrez and Islam Slimani, plus Ghana's Jeffrey Schlupp and Daniel Amartey - for a run of games that includes clashes with Chelsea, Southampton and Manchester United.

Belfast Telegraph


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