Liverpool are not worried about being without Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mane and Naby Keita while they are on Africa Cup of Nations duty, according to assistant Pep Lijnders.
The trio all played in Sunday’s thrilling 2-2 Premier League draw with Chelsea in their final outing before linking up with their respective national sides.
Mane and Salah were both on target at Stamford Bridge as Liverpool raced into a two-goal lead, while Keita was introduced in the second half after Chelsea had levelled up through Mateo Kovacic and Christian Pulisic.
Key attacking pair Salah and Mane have played in 26 of Liverpool’s 29 matches this term – the joint-most of any Reds players, with Jordan Henderson (25) next on the list.
Between them, they have scored 33 of their side’s 77 goals in 2021-22, while chipping in with a combined 10 assists.
Liverpool could now potentially be without both players, as well as midfielder Keita, until the second week of February depending on how far their countries advance at the Africa Cup of Nations.
But Lijnders, who filled in for Jurgen Klopp against Chelsea after the German tested positive for coronavirus, is confident others in the squad can now step up.
“You can try to plan it, but you can never prepare it,” he said.
“It is not a worry because we have faith in the boys we have and a few boys are coming back as well.
“We know that certain players can play more offensively as well, they have been playing in midfield, but they can play more offensively as well.”
Salah and Mane will link up with Egypt and Senegal respectively, while Keita is part of Guinea’s squad for the tournament in Cameroon.
Losing three regulars during a hectic period in the season and with others out through coronavirus and injury is not ideal for Liverpool, but Lijnders has wished the trio well.
“I just told the boys that they should try to win the AFCON because it is a prize to catch and the careers are never long and they deserve to fight for each prize,” Lijnders said.
“This prize now comes in front of them – it’s a tournament with so much passion, so much culture and it is a really proud situation if you can play for your country.
“If it’s England or Germany or Holland or whoever, that’s what they have and feel.
“So they are African legends, they are legends for me, but if they win it they will probably be even bigger legends so they should try with all they have to win it.”
Roberto Firmino missed the Chelsea game after contracting COVID-19, while Takumi Minamino and Divock Origi are currently nursing injuries.
Asked when those players are expected to return to training, Lijnders said: “Let’s see.
“Some of the boys plan to be back, but they still didn’t start team training, so we have to see.”
Lijnders confirmed Klopp will still be absent for the first leg of Liverpool’s EFL Cup semi-final tie with Arsenal on Thursday as he continues to self-isolate.
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