For football fans, international breaks are boring at best and totally hated at the worst. As I have covered in this piece earlier this week, this October break has caused trouble for a lot of teams. Injuries to key players and important players (think South American players) coming in after playing in far-off continents are two of the most significant problems for the European teams and their fans.
Liverpool have both these problems after this break. Two Brazilians form the core of their attack, and they played their international match against Chile on Tuesday night. For a Saturday lunchtime kickoff, the core of Liverpool’s attack could not start training before Thursday. That is some food for thought.
But it is the least of Jurgen Klopp’s worries. What would worry him more is Sadio Mane’s injury that he suffered while on duty for Senegal. Mane has been in tremendous form for most of the last season. He was also brilliant earlier in this season, before his red card against Manchester City. His pace on the wings and his finishing have been vital to Jurgen Klopp’s tactics. But now he is not going to be available for six weeks at least.
But like in every dark cloud, this one too could provide a silver lining, at least to a few players. Who benefits the most will depend on how Klopp changes his lineup to cover for Mane’s absence, but three players can look forward to more involvement in Liverpool’s Mane-less plans.
Assuming Klopp takes the anticipated step of moving Coutinho up on the left wing in the attack, which was the Brazilian’s main position last season, then Oxlade-Chamberlain is an excellent option to play in the midfield on the flanks. Before joining Liverpool, that’s where Arsenal deployed him – in their 3-4-3 system. In the left midfield role, the Englishman has scored 3 and assisted 4 goals in 21 appearances in his career. In the right midfield role, he has scored 4 and assisted 10 in 56 appearances. That’s 21 out of a total of 71 goal involvements from either of the midfield flanks.
But what if Coutinho is not moved upfront? In that case, Klopp needs a wide attacker. AOC can play as a wide attacker, but perhaps the option might be staring Liverpool in the face in the form of their fragile striker – Daniel Sturridge. Sturridge himself wants to play centre-forward, as is well known, but he has been quite effective from wide positions. He has scored 20 goals and created 7 from either of the flanks and has been involved at the rate of 0.48 goals per appearance from the flanks. Overall, he has been involved at the rate of 0.52 goals per appearance. Thus he may be a better centre-forward, but if Klopp believes that Firmino is a better option in the centre (He is.) then Sturridge can ensure that he does not miss games in this pre-World Cup season by being flexible and playing on the flanks.
The youngster featured extensively in Liverpool’s pre-season but has not featured for the first-team much since then. He clearly showed that he could turn into a great find for Liverpool soon. I feel that with easier games against Maribor coming up, Woodburn could get a few minutes under his belt, as Mane’s absence moves him a rung up in the pecking order. He may not become a starter overnight, but I feel that he might get some game time and hence an opportunity to prove his mettle.
Sadio Mane’s injury is certainly a setback for Liverpool. Especially so, as there are games against Manchester United and Tottenham Hotspur that he is going to miss. But Klopp will have to make adjustments to his team to ensure that Liverpool do not feel Mane’s absence as acutely as they did last season when he went off to play in Africa Cup of Nations in January – February. Based on what decisions he makes, AOC, Sturridge and Woodburn might turn out to be the true beneficiaries. Of course, others could benefit as well – Markovich might begin to interest Klopp for example – but at the top of mind, these three seem to be the players that will benefit the most.