Mohamed Salah has kept on improving with each passing season at Liverpool. His 20-goals across all competitions alongside 8-assists, makes him the most in-form player across the top-five European Leagues. No wonder Liverpool are doing so great in the Premier League and Champions League, where the Egyptian has proved his mettle and led the team by example.
Despite his terrific stats, Liverpool have never been over-reliant on the Egyptian in their conquests. His colleague, Sadio Mane, has also been an important player during their successful three-four years on the pitch. The Senegal star has often provided crucial goals and even competed with Salah in the attack.
Liverpool are a team that are compact in all departments on the pitch. They have a stoic defence, an able goalkeeper, and many midfielders tasked with doing specific things that keep the team ticking like a machine. Their forward line, inclusive of Mane, Salah, Roberto Firmino, and Diogo Jota, has proved more than crucial to their success.
However, Jota and Firmino have different roles compared to Mane and Salah, who are stationed in wide areas. The Portuguese and Brazilian forwards often compete for a single position, meaning they have played together very little. This could become a problem for Liverpool as they approach the month of January.
African Cup of Nations (AFCON) and the most affected Premier League teams.
The African Cup of Nations is the continental tournament between African teams every two years. The competition has often become a problem for Premier League sides and other European clubs, which sees their best players representing African nations leave for nearly a month.
A look at Manchester City and Chelsea in the Premier League might indicate why Pep Guardiola or Roman Abramovic has distanced themselves from signing too many African players over the years. The Premier League champions will only lose winger Riyad Mahrez next month and have plenty of cover for the right position in his absence.
Chelsea will lose goalkeeper Edouard Mendy and attacker Hakim Ziyech during January. They certainly have quality covers for those two players and will carry on for a month without their services. Among the big sides, Arsenal and Liverpool could face the big problems with players leaving for the AFCON, and it could hurt Jurgen Klopp’s side more than others.
Could Liverpool be in trouble with their title challenge?
Arsenal’s recent problems with Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and his subsequent absence make it easier for Mikel Arteta to deal with his absence. However, he will also lose Mohamed Elneny, Nicolas Pepe, and Thomas Partey for the competition. It will significantly affect the Gunners and their quest for a top-four place.
In terms of numbers, Arsenal may seem more affected by the AFCON, but Liverpool could lose as many players as the Gunners for the continental competition, and all crucial ones too. Naby Keita (Mali), Joel Matip (Cameroon), Sadio Mane (Senegal) and Mohamed Salah (Egypt) will all depart, leaving a huge gaping hole in their plans for the season.
Matip and Keita leaving will equally prove a big blow. Both those players have played crucial roles this season, and to be without them for over a month could be problematic for the Reds. However, the more pressing matter could be the departures of Salah and Mane, which could leave their title challenge hanging in the balance.
Which Games will Liverpool’s AFCON stars miss?
Premier League sides, including Liverpool, will have to release African players before the early hours of January 3rd. Meaning Salah & co will be available to face Chelsea on January 2nd but will miss games between February 6th. The timeline could be further extended by Covid protocols at the time, which could force players into quarantine depending on their vaccination status, among other things.
In hindsight, Liverpool may not be without their key players for too many Premier League games, although they would miss crucial FA Cup and Carabao Cup ties. Salah and Mane will certainly miss games against Brentford and Crystal Palace in the league. If Egypt and Senegal are eliminated from the group stages, they could be back early.
Liverpool also faces Arsenal in the Carabao Cup semifinal and Shrewsbury Town in the FA Cup third-round clash during this period. From the looks of it, these are not too many important games for Salah and Mane to miss, although any points dropped from these clashes could be fatal to their Premier League ambitions.