Friday 23 August 2019

Holy Grail beckons as Liverpool prove title pedigree

Hero Mane insists Reds won't miss him during Cup of Nations absence

Sadio Mane believes Liverpool have the depth of squad to make up for his absence when he is away on Africa Cup of Nations duty Photo: Clive Brunskill/Getty Images
Sadio Mane believes Liverpool have the depth of squad to make up for his absence when he is away on Africa Cup of Nations duty Photo: Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

Chris Bascombe

There is broad agreement that Liverpool have the ability to challenge for the Premier League, but it is their powers of endurance that left the deepest impression following their Merseyside derby victory on Monday night.

Match-winner Sadio Mane believes his injury-time goal proved Jurgen Klopp's side have the staying power in what is promising to be a congested title race, with at least six clubs still believing they can finish champions.

It was the manner of victory over Everton that was as important as the points that reduced the gap behind leaders Chelsea to six because Liverpool's capacity to grind out results was demonstrated.

"It was a different type of win from us. That is good," said Mane. "The most important thing was not how we played but to have the win. We got it and we are going to keep going now.

"Wins like this show we will be there until the end. It is still early to talk about what is going to happen, but one of our ambitions is to go as far as possible and we are going to try and do that. It was a very important goal and very important to win."

Much is different in this campaign to so many over the past 26 years for a club whose pursuit of the Premier League has become a manic obsession.

It is not just that Liverpool have failed to win it, but they have rarely challenged.

Only twice in the past 12 years have Liverpool been in the top two on Christmas day - the last time was three years ago when the side coached by Brendan Rodgers came so close.

More pertinently, only six times in 26 years have Liverpool been fewer than 10 points behind the leaders at this point.

As things stand, this is set to be only their fifth credible challenge for the Premier League in its current guise.

Dragged

Klopp's is more of a team than the one dragged along by Luis Suarez and Daniel Sturridge's goals in 2014.

Eleven players have scored - more than in any Liverpool side at this stage since 2001. They have already travelled to Arsenal, Chelsea, Tottenham and Everton - securing 10 from 12 points.

The longer such form continues, the more the fevered the anticipation around Anfield will become.

That will present its own challenge for Klopp, one he will readily accept, as the emotion surrounding the possibility of ending such a long drought becomes a story in itself - just as it did under Rodgers.

Some argue that this subplot was a hindrance as much as help in the closing weeks of the season three years ago, especially when Liverpool went gung-ho to beat Chelsea in April 2014 when a smart 0-0 would have been enough. Monday's derby win was hugely important - the difference between keeping Chelsea in sight and conceding seven points since the recent injury to Philippe Coutinho.

Klopp knows the next month is critical with meetings with Manchester City, Manchester United and an EFL Cup semi-final against Southampton on the horizon. He also knows that the depth of his squad will be tested with Mane leaving for Africa Cup of Nations duty following Liverpool's trip to Sunderland on January 2.

Mane, who has nine goals so far, could be absent for six games depending on how deep Senegal go in the competition.

"It will not be easy for me to go with Senegal next month," said Mane. "I would love to carry on playing with my team-mates and help them, but I think they will understand because it is my country and it is my dream.

"I will be wishing them good luck, but without me the team will be the same. Even better, I think.

"They will cope. Coutinho will come back. Joel Matip will come back and Daniel Sturridge is back now. I am very happy for him, it has not been easy for him being out, he has had a lot of injuries.

"But you know he can deliver important performances for the team. That is why the team will be strong."

Senegal have group games on January 15 with Tunisia, on January 19 with Zimbabwe and January 23 with Algeria. With Senegal one of the favourites to win the competition, Mane could miss as many as seven Liverpool games - including their date with current table-topper Chelsea.

Captain Jordan Henderson acknowledged the void that will be created by Mane's absence. "I always knew that Sadio was a good player," said Henderson.

"I had watched him at Southampton and could tell what he was like from playing against him. But since he has come up here, he has gone up another level. That is credit to the manager for helping him improve. It is also credit to him for wanting to improve.

"He has been fantastic for us this season and he will be a big miss when he goes away with Senegal. But we have got players who can step in and we will deal with it. Whoever takes his place, it is up to them to carry on his work."

Henderson is consoled by Sturridge's return, the England striker's contribution to Mane's Goodison winner again showing why Liverpool will not consider letting him leave next month.

"It's massive. Both Daniel and Emre (Can) coming on - two brilliant players coming back from injury - shows the squad depth," said Henderson.

"The Everton players looking at those two coming on wouldn't have enjoyed the last 15 minutes.

"Daniel came up with a bit of magic and he is a huge player, as is everyone in the squad, from now until the end of the season." (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Telegraph.co.uk

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