Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp’s Christmas list is unlikely to be too long this year, but you can almost guarantee one of his wishes will revolve around his star pairing of Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane.
Indeed, all Klopp will really want is to be able to spend as much time as possible with Salah and Mane as he is set bid farewell to the pair for at least six weeks as they head off to the delayed Africa Cup of Nations.
Due to be played in 2020, the tournament takes place in Cameroon beginning in the second week of January. Players who progress through the tournament can expect to be in Cameroon until mid-February.
Salah and Mane will feature for Egypt and Senegal respectively – both nations are among the favourites for the title meaning neither is likely to be back before February, having possibly jetted off as early as Boxing Day.
Liverpool though, are working hard behind the scenes to try and get their players’ departure date delayed until January 4th. This would allow Salah and Mane to partake in three more league games, and they are big ones as they could then face Leeds, Leicester and title rivals Chelsea.
Asked by 90min in his press conference following their win over Southampton, Klopp confirmed that he was hoping that both players be available against Chelsea on January 2nd – a game which could be a title decider.
“We are talking, we do not know yet but we are hopeful,” Klopp confirmed.
And while some may dismiss Liverpool’s loss as ‘just one of those things’, let’s consider just how important they are to the club, and how few of their rivals are going to lose players to the AFCON tournament.
Yes, Chelesa will be without Edouard Mendy – who has established himself as a top class Premier League goalkeeper, but with Kepa as back-up, it is not the same impact as losing two of the best forwards in world football.
So what do Liverpool do? They can’t replace them, that’s for certain, because how can you? Salah has contributed to 19 goals so far this season, and Mane has eight to his name too.
The loss of Roberto Firminio to injury is also huge and although Liverpool would love to add a forward with Jarrod Bowen, Ismaila Sarr and Adama Traore all on their wanted list – that is unlikely to happen.
The key man moving forward until mid-February will, therefore, have to be Diogo Jota.
Jota this season has established himself as first choice alongside Salah and Mane, and he will now get the chance to take centre stage. On Saturday he showed he is capable of doing just that
Jota was brilliant in their win over Southampton, bagging two goals and showing that he can be as clinical as his African colleagues
If they can keep Jota fit in January, Liverpool may indeed be able to just about cope without their star men and keep their title aspirations alive.