It never rains but it pours, so they say. After news broke on Tuesday of Sadio Mané’s six-week injury lay-off, compounding Liverpool’s misery after a barren spell, the Reds find themselves in the midst of a torrential rainstorm.
The timing of Mané’s injury is typically woeful, with the club’s most important player set to be sidelined for blockbuster clashes against Manchester United, Spurs and Chelsea along with three games which could decide the club’s Champions League fate.
Moreover, Liverpool have been left without perhaps their most clinical finisher just when their shooting boots have gone missing.
Recent history suggests the Reds’ present woes may well deepen. Last January, the importance of Mané was clear for all to see as our season threatened to unravel following a series of dreadful results. Mané was on African Cup of Nations duty with Senegal at the time, and we only really got our act together upon his long-awaited return.
Supporters, then, will be cursing the club’s wretched luck and no doubt bemoaning the increasingly unpopular international breaks which continue to disrupt the campaigns of European giants.
But it is rare that a big club will go a whole season without losing one of their key players, and now is the time to seek a solution rather than dwell on this most untimely of setbacks.
Jurgen Klopp’s most likely answer to this pressing issue (no pun intended) is to shift Philippe Coutinho onto the flank, where he shone for much of last season. It is clear that Roberto Firmino is far less effective on the wings, while Daniel Sturridge is unlikely to deputise after an uninspiring display in the dismal draw against Newcastle.
The onus, then, is very much on Coutinho to carry the team in Mané’s absence. Thus the pace of the former Southampton man is traded for O Magico’s world-renowned creativity.
In January, the Reds turned in a number of uncharacteristically flat performances when Mané was missing, bereft of the bursts of energy and pace he so consistently provides. Now, though, the importance of Mohamed Salah will truly emerge.
The Egyptian, known for his sensational speed, will ensure the Reds remain a counter-attacking menace and facilitate the breathless tempo which characterises this team at its very best. Evidently, then, recruiting Salah was a critical move in an otherwise disappointing transfer window.
Shifting Coutinho into the front three alongside Salah, though, creates another issue, for it would leave Jordan Henderson, Georginio Wijnaldum and Emre Can as the likely midfield trio. At times this season, most notably in the demolition of Hoffenheim and rout of Arsenal, they have brought enthralling aggression and vivacity, but generally this particular threesome has been found lacking when it comes to creativity and inspiration.
All of this means the return of Adam Lallana cannot come soon enough. Fans have recently begun to comprehend the true importance of the so-called ‘teacher pet’ and the ‘leader of the press’, who has come into his own under Jurgen Klopp. With his comeback (which should be this month), the fabled ‘gegenpress’ may well return – a frightening prospect for our opponents.
In the meantime, Coutinho could remain in midfield and Klopp could turn to the impressively versatile Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain.
After an admittedly indifferent start to his Liverpool career, the level of criticism directed at the Englishman has been quite staggering. Many fans, who do not appreciate that this was a long-term investment, were seemingly impatient from the outset and so have already taken to applying immense pressure with social media jibes.
Oxlade-Chamberlain must be given time to find his feet, and fans must have faith in Klopp to harness the 24-year-old’s evident potential. After all, it only takes one special moment for him to win over the Anfield faithful.
‘Ox’ offers pace, power, a faultless work rate and a clear determination to prove himself. Whilst it is unlikely Klopp will take a leap of faith and start the £40million man against United, Mané’s injury means he will almost certainly be given a chance in the coming weeks.
A change of system, though, is not out of the question.
When Liverpool lost Mané at the back end of the 2016/17 campaign, Klopp opted to tweak the system, and the switch bore fruit as the Reds ransacked West Ham and powered past Middlesbrough, thanks largely to the brilliance of a revitalised Philippe Coutinho.
Back then, the German ditched his preferred 4-3-3 in favour of a diamond, selecting Daniel Sturridge and Divock Origi to lead the line.
Why not try something similar? Firmino and Salah, who has proven his goalscoring pedigree, could lead the line, with the impressive Dominic Solanke waiting the wings to provide a change of emphasis.
When your games descend into a repetitive pattern, just as Liverpool’s have done, it is a sign that a shake-up is required. Mané’s injury has given the manager a perfect excuse, if indeed he needed one.
The Reds will inevitably miss Mané but are far better equipped to cope in his absence than they were last year, thanks largely to some smart dealings in the transfer window. Last season, he brought something truly unique to the team, but this time Klopp will be thankful to have Salah, who has been a revelation thus far, at his disposal.
And if we remember that Ballon D’Or nominee Coutinho remains available for selection, with Lallana’s highly-anticipated comeback imminent, it’s not all doom and gloom by any stretch of the imagination.
Stripped of their talisman in a tricky spell, and with the visit of their arch nemeses looming, this is perhaps the ultimate test for Klopp’s Liverpool, yet pessimism should not prevail, for they have the tools to overcome it.