Liverpool have started the 2017/2018 season with a bang thanks largely to the impact of the trio of Mohamed Salah, Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mane. These men are arguably the most dynamic frontline in the Premier League as they boast awesome technical abilities, have developed a magnificent mutual understanding, and have all hit the ground running this season.
They won’t play together this weekend when the Reds host Burnley at Anfield after Mane was hit with a three-game suspension following his red card for a dangerous challenge on Manchester City’s goalkeeper Ederson last week. Liverpool appealed the decision as the challenge didn’t look intentional, but the suspension was upheld, meaning the Senegal international will be out until October 1.
With Mane absent, how will the Merseyside giants fare against the Clarent and Blues, and in their upcoming fixtures against Leicester City and Newcastle United?
The evidence suggests that Liverpool have struggled while Mane was absent so there's every recent for the Reds to be concerned following the West African's suspension.
When he departed for the 2017 Africa Cup of Nations in Gabon, the Merseysiders went on a winless streak in the league. Again, when he was injured towards the end of the campaign, Jurgen Klopp's side lacked the menace in attack that had characterised their performances with the 25-year-old.
Against City, with Mane gone and a man down, Liverpool also lacked the invention and intensity in attack that they'd enjoyed while the former Red Bull Salzburg man was on the pitch. Don't forget that Mane's red happened in the immediate aftermath of his being named Player of the Month for August - there's perhaps no one else in the country who's playing as well as him right now.
The statistics show that Liverpool have won 61.3% of games with Mane, compared to 45.3% without him...it's a significant drop off.
They've also averaged 2.2 goals per game with him on the field, compared to 1.5 goals per game when he’s not in action.
Fortunately for Klopp, however, things moving forward should be a little different to how they were in the past - both in the second half against City, and when Mane was absent last season.
Compared to last term, the Reds now have Mohamed Salah, who was surely one of Mane's rivals for the Player of the Month award for August after adapting seamlessly to life back in the Premier League. The Egypt international has already netted two goals and contributed one assist in four Premier League outings, and also found the net against Sevilla in midweek.
Similarly, Philippe Coutinho, who is set to take Mane’s place, is another option after missing the start of the season following an unsettled summer in which he was heavily courted by Barcelona.
The Brazilian was one of the sparks in the Reds team last term and should do well. Daniel Sturridge and Anglo-Nigerian Dominic Solanke have both also been relatively peripheral figures during the early portion of the campaign, and could be primed to step up to play a key role for Klopp in the Senegal forward's absence.
Doubtless, Mane represents a major loss for Liverpool, but unlike at times in the past, Klopp now has options to replace the West African...even if stepping into the shoes of such a deadly talent represents a tall order!