Why Liverpool can’t get complacent after Sadio Mane injury
Sadio Mane's injury setback leaves Liverpool's top-four bid in doubt with eight games to go in their Premier League season
Premier League weekends don’t get much better for Liverpool fans.
The latest instalment of what has been an entertaining Premier League season began with the Merseyside derby as Liverpool eased to a 3-1 win against Everton at Anfield.
A good result was made even more significant when Chelsea lost to Crystal Palace and Manchester United could only muster a goalless draw with West Brom.
Jamie Carragher spoke on behalf of Liverpool fans when the retired defender revealed he was holding out for a draw between Arsenal and Manchester City after the derby, and it was a prediction which became a reality thanks to some rare fighting spirit from Arsene Wenger’s players to secure a 2-2 comeback.
The only caveat to a near perfect batch of results was Sadio Mane’s knee injury.
The Senegal international broke the deadlock in the derby with a superb solo goal before Mane was forced off in the second half with Liverpool leading 3-1.
Speaking at his media conference on Tuesday ahead of the visit of Bournemouth, Klopp confirmed that Liverpool are still in the dark on the severity of the problem.
The worst case scenario is that Mane doesn’t kick a ball again this season, which is a blow to Liverpool’s top-four chances irrespective of the current form of Klopp’s men.
Spurs legend Garth Crooks suggested that Philippe Coutinho could be the biggest rival to Eden Hazard and N’Golo Kante in the running for the PFA player of year award.
However, Mane’s impact has been far greater than the Brazilian’s on Liverpool’s season. In fact, the African is a worthy rival to Kante and Zlatan Ibrahimovic as the signing of the season.
His stats are impressive. Mane has scored 13 goals and has made five assists in 27 games in the Premier League. The winger is Liverpool’s top goal-scorer.
But perhaps his greatest impact can’t be measured in statistics.
Liverpool have struggled to break down teams coming to Anfield and fielding an eight or nine man wall in front of their goal under Brendan Rodgers and Klopp.
Mane has helped to improve Liverpool’s ability to find a way past opposition defences with his direct running, his ability to glide past opponents and his searing pace.
He did just that against Arsenal at the Emirates Stadium in the opening game of the season and continued the theme with his superb derby goal last weekend.
His departure to the African Cup of Nations in January highlighted his importance to the Liverpool side as Klopp’s men were short on ideas without Mane providing an out ball, an option over the top or a runner in space on the break.
Mane signed off with a goal in a 2-2 draw with Sunderland before Liverpool went on a run of one win in seven games in all competitions before his return from the bench in a 1-1 draw with Chelsea on 31 January.
Liverpool have collected 13 points from a possible 21 since the African’s return to the starting line-up and scored key goals in victories over Arsenal, Everton and Tottenham Hotspur.
There were concerns that Mane could fade in the second half of the season after the AFCON but his powers appeared to be growing in spite of his demanding schedule.
Thanks to Mane’s contribution, Liverpool have managed to hoist themselves above Manchester City and into third place. The Reds are five points ahead of fifth-placed Manchester United.
It led to a flurry of predictions from Liverpool legend Carragher and Graeme Souness that Klopp’s side will sew up a top-four place and a return to the Champions League. This confidence comes from their remaining fixtures as Liverpool take on bottom 12 clubs in their final eight games.
But have the two Liverpool icons forgotten that the Reds have dropped most of their points against the so-called lesser teams this term.
Mane provides Klopp with a unique option that no other member of his first-team squad can provide. Coutinho, Adam Lallana and Roberto Firmino don’t have the pace to break past defences and instead thrive with the ball at their feet and picking out team-mates such as Mane producing incisive runs.
It’s not like Liverpool have options off the bench either. For the derby, Ben Woodburn, Divock Origi and Marko Grujic provided the attacking options amongst Klopp’s substitutes.
The pressure is now on Coutinho and Firmino to help Liverpool see out their top-four challenge and secure a Champions League spot. If lessons have been learned from their disappointments against the smaller Premier League clubs earlier this season then Klopp’s men should get the job done.
But without Mane, expect some ropey moments for Klopp and his players in their remaining eight games of the season.