Saido Mane signed for Liverpool over five months ago in a £34 million deal from last Saturday’s opponents Southampton. The Senegalese international has played in eleven of the Reds’ twelve league games so far, interestingly the one game that he didn’t appear in was the one game we have lost this season – the away trip to Burnley on the second weekend of the season.
Mane has played a key role so far in the Reds’ ascension to the upper echelons of the league table, he has contributed six goals and two assists to Liverpool’s cause, but his contributions have gone so much further than in the form of goals and assists.
The 24-year-old will no doubt be called up to Aliou Cisse’s Senegal squad for the African Cup of Nations in Gabon from January 14th to February 5th. At the very least, Mane and his Senegal team-mates, probably including Everton’s Idrissa Gana Gueye, West Ham’s Cheikhou Kouyate, Stoke City’s Mame Biram Diouf and Newcastle’s Mohamed Diame, will be in Gabon until at least January 24th, with their final group game against Algeria the night before.
This means Liverpool will be without their creative forward probably from the Sunderland away game on the 2nd January, missing the FA Cup third, and possibly fourth and even fifth, round, a trip to Manchester United and Hull, and home games against Swansea City as well as probably Chelsea and maybe even Tottenham on the 11th February – worst case scenario is that we will be without Mane for eight games.
Daniel Sturridge has played a relatively minimal role this season so far, so could Mane’s month away be the catalyst for him to kick-start his season? Is he enough to replace the masterful Mane or does Jurgen Klopp need to dip into the January transfer market to bring in a replacement for the Senegal international.
Obviously, we all know how good a player Daniel Sturridge is; his record speaks for itself – the England international has scored 43 league games for the Reds in just 77 appearances. However in the four years that he has been at the club he has missed a large amount of football, Philippe Coutinho who joined the Reds in the same window has played nearly 60 games more than the England striker. He has always been a fantastic footballer wherever he has played, but his injury-proneness has long been his downfall. Klopp has to decide whether he can rely on Sturridge to remain in-form AND injury-free during the period while Mane is away, if he believes that the former Chelsea and Manchester City striker can do this then he has to trust the players that he already has, if not, that’s what the January transfer market is there for.
There has been three key names linked with the Reds as possible replacements for Mane while he goes away with the national team: Ante Coric, Julian Brandt and Quincy Promes. We have been linked with Croatian teenager Coric for the past few transfer windows, and rumours are that we are in for him again in January, but face competition from Spurs. The Dinamo Zagreb attacking midfielder made his debut for the Croatian champions in 2014 and has gone on to make over 70 appearances for the Blues, and has made his debut for the senior national team this year also. He is highly-rated in his homeland as a prospect for the future, but is he someone who can come straight into the team to do the job Mane has been doing? I’m not so sure.
Twenty-year-old Julian Brandt has had a real year of emergence for German side Bayer Leverkusen in 2016, a year in which he made his debut for the senior national team and won a gold medal with the Olympic side in Rio over the summer. Brandt has played over 100 games for the German side, contributing nearly forty goals and assists in that time, and as a result has a release clause in his contract for up to £17million. Reports suggest that the winger has been on Liverpool’s radar for a long time, but that Bayer Leverkusen are likely to rebuff any advances made for their young starlet. The one problem with Brandt is that same as that with Coric: his age. He is only twenty years of age, so would he be able to come in to a strong Liverpool side and replace the contribution of Saido Mane?
The last player mentioned was Spartak Moscow’s Quincy Promes, he is the one that the links have been more tenuous with the Reds. The twenty-four-year-old was bought by the Russian side for £12.7million two and a half years ago, and has shone for Massimo Carrera’s side with 36 goals in 71 games in all competitions – that’s a record better than a goal every other game. Promes has shown promise (sorry, had to be done!) since his move to Russia and has made fourteen appearances for the Dutch national side, with Danny Blind relying on him to cover for the often-injured Arjen Robben.
Of the three, I would say Promes is the most capable of stepping in to the breach left by Mane immediately, and at only twenty-four could play a key role for Liverpool in the years to come.