After the 3-2 capitulation to Swansea City at Anfield Liverpool were left trailing Premier League leaders Chelsea by ten points, and it will take a miracle for the Reds to overthrow Antonio Conte’s superb side at the top of the tree now. Prior to Sadio Mane’s departure to the Africa Cup of Nations, Jürgen Klopp’s side were still in the hunt for their first Premier League trophy. The performances since the loss of the record signing show just how vital Mane is to this new-look Liverpool side.
Prior to going off to play for Senegal in AFCON, Mane was Liverpool’s top scorer with 9 goals. He also has 4 assists and has been involved in 27.7% of Liverpool’s goals. The addition of the former Southampton player has injected a ferociousness to the Reds’ attack that was missing last season. The Anfield outfit are the highest scorers in the league in this campaign, with 51 goals after 22 games, and that has a lot to do with the extra dimension that Mane has provided.
But in the two top-flight fixtures without the pacey African, Liverpool have drawn one and lost one, and have clearly lacked that exuberant energy that Mane provides. Their next tie is a crunch clash against the league leaders, and if Chelsea beat Liverpool Klopp will have to admit that the title dream is over this year. Sportbet.io are offering 193/100 on Conte’s slick unit to edge their rivals in the Anfield tie at the beginning of February.
In addition to the last two matches, Mane missed the early season encounter against Burnley. The Reds dropped important points there in the 2-0 loss to the newly promoted side. While everyone expected the loss of Philippe Coutinho to be a major blow to Liverpool’s title campaign, during the seven matches without the Brazilian the Reds only lost once. They drew twice and managed to beat Manchester City in that timeframe. This proved that Klopp did have a contingency plan to cope without the player who had previously been tipped to win the PFA Player of the Year award this year. But the German has known since the summer that he would lose Mane for around a month, so why didn’t he come up with a solid backup strategy for that?
As he’s new man in the fold, there is a chance that the hierarchy at Anfield hadn’t quite realized just how crucial Mane is until now. There is no chance that they will make that mistake again. Many reporters now believe that the squad has lacked enough depth at a pivotal time, and Klopp should now look to address these issues in the January transfer market in order to cling on to a top four spot.
The general consensus is that a pacey attacker- possibly someone like Jese Rodriquez who they have been linked with in the past- and a strong centre-half are required. And of course, Liverpool fans will be praying that Senegal crash out of the AFCON early.