Liverpool’s international break curse (predictably) strikes again; this time it’s star-man Sadio Mané, and fate has (again predictably) been extremely harsh with six-weeks the estimated recovery time.
Meaning he’ll miss key-fixtures against Manchester United, Tottenham, Chelsea and Champions League games of momentous value. A massive, massive blow.
A familiar situation to last season, except for this time around will hopefully prove how we’ve evolved from a ‘one-man-band’ to a versatile team of influential players. A team that can adapt to losing one of their main assets for sustained periods, without losing their edge.
Of course, that will entail many stepping up as individuals, but could also be achieved by rearranging the formation and personnel to utilise what we have.
I’m not suggesting that the absence of Mané will go unnoticed, as any team would inevitably miss someone as sensationally direct as he is – I am however suggesting that a team which consists of Coutinho, Firmino, Salah, Sturridge, Oxlade- Chamberlain, Solanke, Can, Henderson, Wijnaldum and eventually Lallana, should have more than enough going forward to cope.
Let’s start with the obvious choice, and my instant reaction to hearing the injury news (after weeping/swearing uncontrollably that is). I thought, last season we looked formidable with Coutinho playing left-wing, Firmino in the central position and Mané out right; only change would be to swap Mané for Salah.
Less impact on the team, but with an attack still capable of opening up the opposition. Only downside of that would be losing Coutinho from midfield and potentially weakening the link between midfield and attack. Though a midfield of Wijnaldum, Henderson and Emre could still keep the transition in motion (like they did against Arsenal or Hoffenheim), or perhaps Oxlade-Chamberlain could be the man to feed the frontline.
Again, Lallana’s highly anticipated return will only strengthen this. Either way, plenty of options to fill the midfield void and an instant fix by using Coutinho’s trickery and goal-threat to accommodate the attack – with the added bonus that he has vast experience playing in that area. A tried-and-tested recipe.
I’ve also seen many fans contemplating the idea that Oxlade-Chamberlain would slot straight into the left-side of our attack, freeing up Coutinho to be the creative spark from the heart of midfield. Again this’d be a straight-swap to keep the rest of the team fairly unscathed. Big, big boots to fill, but why buy a player for £40-million if it’s not for occasions such as this?
I mentioned stepping-up earlier and I hope the team and players like Oxlade-Chamberlain view this as their opportunity to show Klopp (and us fans) what they’re all about. Not that (like many) I’m writing Oxlade off this early in his Liverpool career. That’s unfair in my opinion, giving he’s barely played.
Forget his past accolades, and his past deficiencies; this is a new chapter, a new chance – and not all great stories start-out enthralling. Always judge a story at the end. (Keep that in mind for the season).
Then there’s the view that Sturridge or Solanke can spearhead the attack, giving Firmino either a rest or playing him out wide – an option not overly favourable amongst fans; pretty sure the general consensus is Firmino is much more important to our style by holding the centre of attack.
Though, that said, would you dislike the idea of Firmino, Sturridge/Solanke and Salah with Coutinho fizzing balls into the trio? Remains to be seen but I certainly wouldn’t be shocked if the goals began to flow again under this lot. Surely a sign that we’re far more equipped to handle a significant injury crisis.
For me big Dom Solanke deserves a run in this side, not just cameo performances either, age and inexperience aside, he’s shown flashes that he can be a real presence – and would give us a very different dimension when struggling to punish a team in the final-third.
Obviously there’s no denying Sturridge’s talent and ability to find the back-of-the-net, but Solanke genuinely excites me. His willingness and enthusiasm to fulfil his credentials is what may give him an edge to transform a bad situation into an opportunity to grasp with both hands. Football’s all about moments – and this be Solanke’s.
A change in formation could actually be our best option to be honest. I’m thinking 4-2-3-1; Sturridge/Solanke up top, Coutinho (left), Firmino (behind striker), Salah (right), with Henderson and Emre/Gini protecting the defence/pivoting. Only me fantasising, but I think this’d be lethal in the right games. Pace, innovative creators throughout the pitch and doubled up resistance to help our defence.
Another potential idea is playing 5-3-2; Lovren, Matip, Gomez as the 3, Trent/Milner/Oxlade as right- wing-back, Moreno/Robertson as left-wing-back with Henderson/Emre/Gini as holding-midfielders, Coutinho as playmaker and Firmino/Sturridge/Salah/Solanke as the 2. Maybe 5 at the back could strengthen our defensive frailties?
With rotation in mind, Klopp could use Sturridge and Solanke the same way he did to last season with Sturridge and Origi in Cup games. Two up top – with Coutinho, Firmino, Oxlade-Chamberlain or Lallana in behind.
Not forgetting Danny Ings; still plenty of room for a tireless and determined striker with a point to prove, maybe not in contention for the upcoming games, but may get a look in for either West Ham or Southampton, considering West Ham’s a mere 3-days after Maribor at Anfield and Southampton’s also 3-days before we travel to Sevilla for a crucial Champions League showdown.
Ben Woodburn and Harry Wilson are also notable options. I think we’ll see a lot of changes with the hectic fixture list in-hand.
There’s so, so many different routes Jürgen could choose to go down to counteract the loss of Mané, and knowing that our top-goal-scorer Salah, plus other match winners are still in the mix is slightly more calming than other years where we’ve been left bare with huge limitations in our team selection.
It’s not ideal by any means, but there’s plenty of quality still in this team – and they’re still capable of beating any team when they match their own ability with passion and concentration.
Let’s just hope the Reds appetite for destruction returns just in time to face our arch-nemesis! I’ll end this with my predicted line-up for Manchester United:
Mignolet, Trent, Matip, Lovren, Moreno, Henderson, Wijnaldum, Can, Coutinho, Firmino, Salah.