Chelsea and Manchester United got some bad news following the international break with N’Golo Kante and Marouane Fellaini out, respectively. But undoubtedly the team that will be worst affected is Liverpool.
The Reds’ star man Sadio Mane is set to Miss up to six weeks with a torn hamstring sustained while playing with Senegal in a World Cup qualifier against Cape Verde. This layoff starts with the mammoth clash at Anfield against Manchester United on Saturday, and could extend upto the game against Chelsea on November 25.
Jurgen Klopp certainly has a huge dilemma on his hands. Mane scored in each of Liverpool’s first three games and was awarded the Player of the Month award for August. The winger then got sent off in the 5-0 defeat at Man City, going on to miss the next three games.
Options available to Klopp
Philippe Coutinho’s return to the team has proven to be a great boon to the team in recent weeks. The Brazilian plays in the number 10 role though, and there isn’t anyone else in the team (apart from Mohamed Salah, who plays at right wing) to compete with Mane’s pace.
The first alternative Klopp could seek could be to play Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. The Englishman left Arsenal frustrated at the lack of a more forward role at the Emirates, where he was played at wing-back by Arsene Wenger. He will relish the opportunity at replacing Mane. The Ox may not be a prolific goalscorer, but he sure does have pace and a very good crossing ability.
There is also the option of shifting Roberto Firmino back, and playing Daniel Sturridge up front. The former would probably play at number 10, with Coutinho shifting out wide. This would change the way Liverpool have been playing thus far this season, but the presence of a target man up front is something they’ve seriously lacked. Sturridge’s injury problems have made him a fringe figure at times nowadays, but if given the opportunity, he is one of the most prolific strikers in the whole of the league. It wouldn’t be a bad idea to give this a shot.
Of course, Adam Lallana is only a few weeks away from his return from a thigh injury. He has moved to Qatar to speed up his recovery, and the Englishman will be a great fit in this team.
Again, it will be a monumental task for anyone in the squad to score goals with the regularity that Mane does. But Lallana, Firmino and Coutinho can all do it. It will sacrifice pace on the left, but Liverpool could look to play with a more possession-based style that would also leave them less vulnerable to the counter attack.
It was anyway unlikely that Liverpool would challenge for the title, with their shaky defence. Mane’s injury at this crucial period in the season has almost made sure of that.
However, if Klopp can find an alternative quickly, there is no reason why the Reds can’t continue to target the top 4. It will be interesting to see how they line up against Jose Mourinho’s men on Saturday, in a match that promises to be full of drama and excitement.