Football

Mane: 'Reds will be even better without me'

ANC-bound Mane says the return of Sturridge, Coutinho and Matip will make up for his absence

Liverpool forward Sadio Mane is confident the club will cope fine without him when he leaves for the African Nations Cup next month.

The Reds' eight-goal leading scorer and newest Merseyside Derby hero has only three league matches left against Stoke, Manchester City and Sunderland before he joins up with Senegal.

He will be absent until at least Jan 23, which is Senegal's final group game, and most likely longer as his country are expected to reach the knockout stages.

Mane is away at a crucial time with league matches against Manchester United and Swansea - Chelsea visit on Jan 31 - a two-legged League Cup semi-final against Southampton as well as the start of their FA Cup campaign.

However, Liverpool will hope his absence will be offset by the return of striker Daniel Sturridge, who made his comeback against Everton on Monday after a month out with a calf injury, and the impending return of Philippe Coutinho from ankle ligament damage.

Centre back Joel Matip is also scheduled to shake off an ankle problem in the coming days.

"It will not be easy for me to go with Senegal next month," said Mane.

"I would love to carry on playing with my teammates and help my team, but 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.

"They will cope. Coutinho will come back. Matip will come back and Sturridge is back now.

"I am very happy for him (Sturridge). 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.

MANE, A KEY COMPONENT

"That is why the team will be strong (while I am away)."

Some had questioned whether Mane would be worth the £30 million (S$53.7m) investment Liverpool made in the summer to bring him to Anfield from Southampton, but he has slotted in seamlessly.

His pace from the flanks combined with his goals have made him a key component of Juergen Klopp's strategy.

"I always knew that he was a good player," said captain Jordan Henderson.

"I 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 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."

One of those players likely to get an opportunity is Sturridge, who underlined his value by coming off the bench to set up Mane's winner at Goodison Park on Monday.

Asked about the importance of having the England striker back, Henderson said: "Massive. Both him and Emre (Can) coming on - two brilliant players coming back from injury - shows the squad depth.

"I am sure 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 for the goal and he is a huge player, as is everyone in the squad, from now until the end of the season." - PA SPORT

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