Liverpool have been dealt yet another blow in their quest for Champions League football. Sadio Mané has joined Adam Lallana and Jordan Henderson on the treatment table after sustaining an injury in the victory over Everton in the Merseyside derby.
The former Southampton attacker initially tried to run off the injury after a tangle of legs with Everton’s Leighton Baines but eventually admitted defeat and hobbled off. He'd earlier done his job though by putting his side ahead with a superb solo goal.
Reports last night claimed the Reds are fearful their top scorer will miss the remainder of the season with the severity of the injury still unknown. Swelling around the knee is yet to subside meaning scans weren’t able to reveal the extent of the injury.
Jürgen Klopp’s men are currently third in the Premier League table, six points clear of fifth placed Manchester United but it’s worth noting that Mourinho’s men have two games in hand on their Merseyside rivals. The media believe Liverpool have the advantage in the race for top four heading into the business end of the season.
This feeling primarily stems from the fact the Reds don’t play any top seven teams in their final eight matches of the season. They’re against opposition they should be beating. However, it’s against these teams that they’ve come unstuck against throughout the year.
Facing them without Mané, the player whose goals and assists have directly contributed to 13 of their 59 points this season, has made their task even more difficult. He’s been the player of the season during his debut campaign at Anfield. His movement, pace and ability on the ball have been key to the side breaking down opposing teams who look to sit behind the ball.
Without his incisiveness Klopp’s team have come across as blunt.
In the seven games Mané missed due to his participation at the African Cup of Nations, Roberto Firmino and the Liverpool attack managed to find the back of the net on just the five occasions and won just one match, an FA Cup tie against Plymouth. Earlier on in the season the team lost 2-0 to Burnley with the former Red Bull Salzburg speedster sitting that match out.
Liverpool increasingly worried by Sadio Mane knee injury. Unsure how much he will be able to feature in run-in.
— paul joyce (@_pauljoyce) April 3, 2017
Liverpool fans have a valid reason to be worried. If history repeats itself and their team forget the aim of the game is to stick the ball into the back of the net in the absence of Mané, then they could miss out on Champions League qualification – their sole aim for the season.
As shown in January, Klopp doesn’t have any direct alternatives to Mané; there’s no like-for-like replacement. If everybody was fit then the German would turn to Lallana who occupied that role throughout January as well as for the most part of last season.
However, due to his injury Lallana isn’t an option. This makes things difficult for the former Borussia Dortmund manager.
We’ve taken a look at possible ways Liverpool could line-up until one of Henderson, Lallana or Mané return.
The 18-year-old has seen his stock rocket this season after a series of impressive performances for the first-team, notably away at Old Trafford in a 1-1 draw in January.
The versatile youngster played out wide after coming on against Everton and didn't look out of place alongside Firmino and Divock Origi. He's played at right-back for Klopp's side and centre-midfield for the reserve team.
Liverpool coach Pep Lijnders had this to say in January when asked about the player: “Alexander-Arnold always played there. The number six role. My Ruben Neves. The main guy, the pivot, the lighthouse of the team, guiding the rest.”
2 goals and 2 assists in 2 games for England u19.
Trent Alexander-Arnold stars for England with two-goal show https://t.co/QeZc7cWjnB
— Scott McAuley (@toshenhoff) March 25, 2017
He's a player with all the tools to practically form a career in any outfield position. He single-handedly controlled the right flank while away with England on international duty. He's got this fearlessness to his game which should be capitalised on.
Klopp may unleash him in an attacking role.
The 17-year-old scored his first goal for the first-team in an EFL Cup tie against Leeds United earlier on in the season. He's made a couple of cameo appearances recently and hasn't looked out of his depth.
Similar in a way to Alexander-Arnold, it's a risk gambling on youth but at the same time, how will they learn if they aren't given the opportunity?
The Welshman is creative and he's a goal threat. His unpredictability could be a huge positive in games against the ultra defensive natured opposition.
Going with Woodburn or Alexander-Arnold allows Klopp to Firmino in a central area. It means there's not a major reshuffle because of one injury.
The Safe Bet
The German manager will more than likely go with Divock Origi. The Belgian came off the bench against Everton to replace Mané and emphatically scored the decisive third goal for the Reds.
He looked lively and seemed to play two roles along with Firmino. When one went central the other filled in out wide and vice versa. The former Lille man recently spoke about wanting more game time and this could be his opportunity now to prove why he deserves it.
It's not ideal for Firmino but Origi did look more like the Origi of last season. His overall contribution was what was noteworthy, not just his goal. It's a marked improvement from earlier on this year when he was scoring but doing nothing more.
A series of eye-catching performances could have an impact on Klopp's summer plans and that should be incentive enough for the 21-year-old to finish the season on a high.
Do Liverpool have enough firepower to cope without the injured Mané? It'll be interesting to see how they approach the remaining games without their star man.