Sadio Mane returns from the international break having suffered a thumb injury, but the Liverpool winger could have benefited from a rest regardless.
Mane headed back to Melwood prior to Senegal’s clash with Sudan on Tuesday, with the 26-year-old pictured in hospital with his thumb bandaged.
Van Dijk’s withdrawal from the Netherlands squad was pre-planned as he manages a rib injury, while scans on Salah’s groin problem are suggested to have been positive.
According to injury expert Ben Dinnery, only three Premier League players have missed games due to thumb injuries since 2012, those being goalkeepers, while Senegal’s team doctor Abdourahmane Fedior has insisted it “isn’t too serious.”
Dinnery further explains that the decision over whether Mane features at the John Smith’s Stadium will likely be “player-led”—or in other words, whether the No. 10 is willing to take the risk.
Mane is still Liverpool’s joint-top goalscorer after 11 games, having found the back of the net four times, and his involvement against Huddersfield would widely be considered a boost.
But it can also be argued that, thumb injury or not, he would benefit from a short spell on the sidelines—with this a blessing in disguise.
Mane’s Strong Start & Slow Decline
Beginning the season in emphatic form, Mane scored all four of his goals in the first four games of the season.
But after that effort at the King Power, he has failed to fire in the last seven consecutive games, of which he started every one and completed the full 90 minutes in five.
Sturridge is now level with Mane on four in total, despite playing just 205 minutes, averaging a goal every 51.3 minutes including two against Chelsea and one against Paris Saint-Germain.
Just one other player, Xherdan Shaqiri (191), has been named in every matchday squad but played fewer minutes, while conversely, none have played more than Mane (952).
Only five forwards have played more minutes than Mane (702) in the Premier League—Harry Kane (718), Troy Deeney (719), Nathan Redmond (720), Aleksandar Mitrovic (720) and Aaron Lennon (720).
That the Senegalese has suffered a drop in direct goal contribution in recent weeks, therefore, should come as no surprise:
(Statistics via WhoScored.)
Along with failing to add to his goal tally, Mane is now averaging fewer shots on goal and fewer key passes per 90, as well as registering a marginally lower passing accuracy.
He is averaging more successful dribbles and tackles per 90, but on a basic level he is proving less efficient in the final third.
This is natural, given this is a comparison between those four games and his 11 appearances in total, but it is certainly telling that, as the weeks have gone by, he has been less clinical.
Of course, this is symptomatic of the Liverpool forward line in general, with Sturridge the anomaly as Jurgen Klopp‘s new supersub.
But Mane’s drop in form has gone under the radar compared to Salah, and given his workload it could be that the Reds’ No. 10 is the more pressing concern.
Last season, only Wijnaldum (3,600), Salah (4,119) and Firmino (4,188) played more minutes than Mane (3,480), despite missing the same amount of games combined through injury or suspension (eight).
Mane, Salah and Firmino also went to the World Cup, and were given three weeks’ holiday after their exit from the tournament, and though Klopp has rotated his fellow forwards, Mane is yet to be rested.
His thumb injury could come at an opportune period, and one in which the manager was seemingly already planning a switch-up in personnel.
Klopp’s Plans to Rotate
Speaking before the Reds’ 0-0 draw with Man City, Klopp suggested the intensity of the recent period of seven games in 23 days deterred him from changing his setup too drastically:
“It’s quite difficult then to make plenty of changes, because what we need in these moments is that we really have a formation who knows how to defend together.
“Because in a lot of parts of the game the other teams, like Paris, Chelsea and Napoli, they have the ball.
“So it needs to work out pretty well, and that’s what takes longest.
“It was very intense, in the details different but in general very similar, and so that’s now the last of these tests.”
Next, Liverpool take on Huddersfield (A), Red Star (H), Cardiff (H), Arsenal (A), Red Star (A) and Fulham (H), before embarking on the final international break of 2018.
While Klopp will remain respectful of the upcoming opposition, his assertion that the City game was “the last of these tests” highlights the difference between the two runs.
His focus in that seven-game period was defensive structure, but now he could be willing to experiment.
But in order to risk burnout, or a further decline in his productivity, the priority should be allowing Mane time to rest following his injury—with Shaqiri perhaps the perfect alternative.