With Sadio Mane facing the next three domestic games on the sidelines, Philippe Coutinho can eye a triumphant return to the Liverpool setup.
Racing onto a lofted pass from Joel Matip, the winger raised his boot high and collided with the face of Man City goalkeeper Ederson, receiving a straight red card and setting his side on course for a 5-0 defeat.
Presuming it is upheld, Mane will now miss next Saturday’s visit of Burnley, as well as both away clashes with Leicester City, in the League Cup and the Premier League.
After the Senegalese’s bright start to the season, in which three goals in as many games saw him named the Premier League‘s Player of the Month, his absence will be felt significantly.
But Jurgen Klopp has another option returning to the fold this month in Coutinho, whose failed attempts to force through a move to Barcelona saw him miss the first six games of the campaign.
Fortunately the timing could be worse, as Coutinho’s reintroduction can provide a solution to Mane’s time out.
Mane’s Frustrating Absence
The bubble had to burst eventually, and after a five-game unbeaten run to start the campaign it came, frustratingly, on a crucial afternoon at the Etihad Stadium.
Liverpool had produced some promising moments in the first 25 minutes in Manchester, with Mohamed Salah‘s pace exploiting the hapless Nicolas Otamendi, with only the Egyptian’s weak finishing keeping the scores level.
Even when Sergio Aguero had found the back of the net for City, the Reds remained in the hunt, and it was a similar burst from Mane that created the opening.
But with Ederson on the front foot, haring out of the penalty area to bravely beat the winger to Matip’s pass, Jonathan Moss deemed it necessary to bar Mane from the field.
The way in which the Reds capitulated following Mane’s dismissal was unforgivable, with Klopp opting for damage limitation ahead of Wednesday’s clash with Sevilla.
First Salah was withdrawn at half-time, with Georginio Wijnaldum and Roberto Firmino also substituted in the second half as the 50-year-old looked to preserve his key names for Europe.
Either way, without Mane his side looked toothless, and that is a testament to his rise to prominence on Merseyside.
Before the trip across the M62, Mane celebrated the Reds’ first Premier League Player of the Month award since Steven Gerrard and Luis Suarez shared the honour in 2014.
The Senegalese had scored a stunning effort at Watford and the match-winner at home to Crystal Palace.
Beyond his goalscoring prowess, his pace, dynamism and predatory instinct makes Mane arguably the most important player in Klopp’s squad, alongside the enduringly underrated Firmino.
That highlights the struggle the Reds face without him, but mercifully, Klopp has a fitting replacement.
Coutinho’s Pathway For Return
“We had a very good talk, he was in a very good mood and his training was even better,” Klopp told reporters of Coutinho’s return to Melwood on Friday.
“But, I had to make the decision; it was so clear, we have seven games in the next three weeks.”
After a month on the sidelines, missing the first five games of the season for Liverpool, the Brazilian was rightly omitted at the Etihad.
Offering his No. 10 an olive branch after his prolonged, and damaging, attempts to force through a move to Barcelona, Klopp gave Coutinho a clean slate.
But given the impressive run of Mane, Salah and Firmino in Klopp’s attack, and the performances of Wijnaldum, Emre Can and Jordan Henderson in the 4-0 win over Arsenal, Coutinho’s inclusion was not guaranteed.
With Mane now facing three games out, however, the playmaker’s return to the fold is paramount.
But having played just 47 minutes over two games for Brazil so far this season, and only returning to training on Thursday following a lengthy absence with a back injury, he needs to be reintroduced carefully.
There is a clear pathway, however, as crucially, Mane is not suspended for the visit of Sevilla.
At Anfield on Wednesday night, Coutinho can return to the matchday squad for the first time this season, and provide Klopp with a devastating option from the substitutes’ bench.
Then, with Mane absent, Saturday’s home clash with Burnley should hand Coutinho his first start of the campaign, with the trip to Leicester on September 23 likely his first 90 minutes.
Rotation was always expected for the League Cup third-round clash against the Foxes on September 19, and Klopp now has the options to do so.
Klopp’s Squad Depth to Be Tested
While Coutinho is the marquee name for the Reds without Mane, there is a plethora of talent at Klopp’s disposal as he navigates the absence of his No. 19.
Replacing Salah at half-time at the Etihad, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain endured a hugely unflattering debut, tasked with stabilising a lopsided forward line and struggling to impose himself.
But the 24-year-old, who Klopp revealed is being considered for “four positions,” will be looking to put his troubled start behind him, and can deputise for Mane out wide.
Elsewhere, both Dominic Solanke and Daniel Sturridge were on Klopp’s substitutes’ bench on Saturday, and provide Liverpool with two very different options up front.
And Ben Woodburn, fresh from a triumphant breakthrough on the international stage with Wales, could be rotated in at the King Power Stadium in the League Cup.
Even Lazar Markovic, who has returned to training with the first-team squad after failing to secure a move away in the summer window, could be considered during Mane’s suspension.
The Serbian, along with Danny Ings and Harry Wilson, is unlikely to feature, given the depth of quality elsewhere, but after struggling to replace Mane during the Africa Cup of Nations in January, Klopp now has a host of alternatives.
It is Coutinho who possesses the quality to do so at the high standard required, though, and his reintegration can serve to distract Liverpool from the frustration of losing Mane.