Can Liverpool keep winning once Salah leaves for AFCON?

LIVERPOOL, England – Before traveling to the Ivory Coast for a six-week African Cup of Nations appearance with Egypt, Mohamed Salah had two goals and an assist as Liverpool beat Newcastle United 4-2 at Anfield, moving to within three points of advantage. at the top of the Premier League table. The 31-year-old would have finished with a hat-trick had his first-half penalty not been saved by goalkeeper Martin Dúbravka.

Liverpool are about to find out what life is like without Salah, and the timing couldn’t be much worse for manager Jurgen Klopp and his title-chasing team.

Every club has its indispensable players, but none is more important than Salah for Liverpool. Manchester City have managed without prolific goalscorer Erling Haaland during their recent injury break, going unbeaten in their last seven games without him, and Klopp’s team must now do the same without Salah.

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With champions Man City five points behind Liverpool and a game in hand, it seems clear that we are set for a renewal of the intense rivalry between the two clubs in the second half of the season, and both know that any slip-up will be attacked by the other.

So, just when Liverpool need to step on the accelerator and ramp up the pressure on City (and fellow title contenders Aston Villa and Arsenal), the Reds must prepare to be without their talisman for up to six weeks. If Egypt makes it all the way to the AFCON final in Abidjan on February 11, Salah will miss four Premier League matches, including a trip to Arsenal on February 4.

As the most successful nation in AFCON history, with seven titles and having reached two of the last three finals, it would be wishful thinking to expect Egypt to exit early enough for Salah to return to club football before mid-February, So now it’s up to Darwin Núñez, Diogo Jota, Luis Díaz and Cody Gakpo to prove they can fill the void.

“I want to win,” Salah said when asked about his AFCON commitments. “It means a lot to play for the national team. It’s something I can’t take for granted. I would love to win it.”

After rejecting a £150m bid for the striker from Saudi Pro League side Al Ittihad in August, Liverpool ensured Salah would remain at Anfield and play a central role in their bid to win the Premier League title this season. . But there are fears within Anfield that Al Ittihad will return this summer with another big offer that proves too much for both club and player to turn down as Salah enters the final year of his Liverpool contract at the end of the season.

But the value of keeping Salah early this season has been confirmed by his contribution so far this campaign. His goals against Newcastle on Monday took him to 14 in the league, making him the league’s joint top scorer with City’s Haaland, and Salah also increased his assist tally to eight having set up Gakpo with a classy flick. center with the outside of your boot. In the second half.

“He’s a goal-scoring machine,” Klopp said of Salah. “He will never stop doing these things.”

Salah is Liverpool’s vanguard but also its creator-in-chief. Only Núñez, with six, comes close to Salah’s assist figure; No one at Anfield comes close to his goal tally. Salah is now tied with Ollie Watkins for the most assists in the Premier League this season.

But Salah’s reliability is now an issue that Klopp must overcome. Between them, Liverpool’s other forwards have 16 league goals and nine assists this season. Those aren’t unimpressive numbers, but when you’re chasing a title, especially when you’re trying to hold off a team as ruthless as Manchester City, you need every advantage and being without Salah is a huge disadvantage for Liverpool.

The only positive for Klopp and his team is that January is largely taken up by domestic cup games: Liverpool only have two more league games left this month, away at Bournemouth and at home against Chelsea, before facing Arsenal and Burnley in early February. By the time Salah finally returns for the trip to Brentford on February 17, who knows where Liverpool will be in the title race?

Salah dominated Monday’s match against Newcastle. Dubravka also stood out, especially saving Salah’s penalty, but the Newcastle goalkeeper could not avoid the red tide when Salah’s double and goals from Gakpo and Curtis Jones sealed the victory, with Alexander Isak and Sven Botman on the scoresheet from Newcastle.

It is debatable whether Salah should have had the chance to score his second goal and redeem himself with another penalty, given that Jota won the penalty after a delayed fall following the slightest contact from Dubravka. But although the decision infuriated Newcastle manager Eddie Howe – “It shouldn’t have happened, he (Jota) has taken two steps before he fell,” Howe said – it was not an incident that influenced the outcome of the game.

Salah was the key determinant against Newcastle. He scored when it mattered most and stepped up when his team needed it most. That’s what Salah has always done, so there’s no doubt Liverpool face a challenge in being able to do without him for the next six weeks.

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