Liverpool are set to lose three of their star players for a minimum of four weeks in January as the African Cup of Nations (AFCON) looms on the horizon.
Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mane and Naby Keita are all set to represent their nations in the tournament, which could mean a leading role for fringe players back at Anfield.
While losing Keita is far from ideal, Jurgen Klopp has a number of midfield options to cover this area. The absence of Salah and Mane, however, could prove costly to the team’s title hopes.
Salah and Mane at AFCON could derail Liverpool title hopes
Mane joined the Reds from Southampton in July 2016. Salah signed a year later and the pair have played starring roles for Klopp ever since.
Winning the Champions League in 2019 and the Premier League in 2020 is a huge example. During the league-winning season, Mane made 25 goal contributions while Salah made a staggering 29 (WhoScored).
Firmino injury woes continue as Jota steps up
Liverpool’s current season has continued in the same vein with the African duo being the main source of goals, although Diogo Jota has eased their burden.
Roberto Firmino has had a stop-start season so far because of injuries and that makes him hard to rely on.
With no return date for Firmino, Klopp may only have three senior attackers available when AFCON rolls around.
Minamino and Origi could come in from the cold during AFCON
Jota will continue in the side as he has started this season on fire but the same can’t be said of Divock Origi and Japan international Takumi Minamino. While Origi can play from the left, he is a lot more effective through the middle. Therefore, Minamino’s role will be vital.
Similarly to Jota, the 26-year-old can play in any of the forward positions and can drop into a deeper role. His ability to plug the gaps will prove a great boost to his manager.
However, Minamino will need games to get into the rhythm of Klopp’s first team. Opportunities have been fleeting and he has mainly been used in the Carabao Cup this season. Netting in the ties against Norwich City and Preston will do his chances no harm at all.
Minamino has been limited to substitute appearances in the league, which is due to the red hot form of the current front three. It would be difficult for any attacker in world football to break into the team at the moment.
Minamino must take his chance
Salah, Jota and Mane have all started the season in fine goalscoring form. All three got themselves on the scoresheet at the weekend.
Minamino netted the fourth goal against Arsenal on Saturday after coming on as a sub, which will hopefully help his confidence. The offside flag prevented the Japan star from getting a goal against Porto on Wednesday night but his strong performance will do his chances no harm at all.
While Minamino has been struggling to get into the side, Origi has had a similar struggle this season.
Jota will become Klopp’s main man
Jota has started this season very well. He initially forced his way into the team ahead of a struggling Firmino and has made the place his own.
The Portuguese poacher has netted five times in nine appearances so far despite games sometimes appearing to pass him by.
Will the goalscoring burden prove too much for Jota or will Minamino and Origi step up? We will see in January.