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Salah vs Mane: What could Liverpool duo's World Cup play-off mean for Klopp?

12:00 EAT 25/03/2022
Salah Mane Liverpool 2022
The Reds' two star men will face off for a place in Qatar but their respective Anfield futures remain far from certain

Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp has already found himself at the centre of one African storm this season, and he wasn’t about to make the same mistake again.

Speaking after Sunday's FA Cup win at Nottingham Forest, the Reds boss explained to GOAL why he had chosen to leave both Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane out of the game.

“Mo, I wouldn't say he’s injured, but he felt his foot again, so it was clear we cannot use him,” Klopp said. “So, at that moment, I decided that we then cannot use Sadio as well.

“We all know there is a very important game coming up, and I didn’t want to be the one person who decides it, by bringing in Sadio and he gets any kind of knock. That was the reason.”

The game Klopp is referring to, of course, is the World Cup qualification play-off between Egypt and Senegal, the first leg of which takes place in Cairo on Friday.

It is a huge one, a meeting of two of the continent’s best teams and a repeat of last month’s Africa Cup of Nations final, which Senegal won on penalties after an attritional 0-0 draw in Yaounde. 

Mane, of course, scored the decisive spot-kick that night, securing an historic first Afcon triumph for the Lions of Teranga.

The scenes which greeted the Reds star and his team-mates upon their triumphant return to Dakar will live long in the memory.

For Salah, meanwhile, there was devastation. He had been due to take Egypt’s fifth penalty in the shootout but never got the chance to. His wait for a first title with his beloved national team goes on.

Both he and Mane know the importance of the next few days. For both, this is probably their last chance to make a real impact at a World Cup.

Both will be 30 by the time Qatar rolls around, and neither will want to be watching it from their sofa, that’s for sure.

What could it mean for Liverpool?

“It’s not that I hate them; I’m just afraid of them!”

Klopp smiled when asked by GOAL about this international break, and it will certainly be a stressful week or so for the Reds boss.

His side, after all, are about to embark on an incredible run of fixtures. April could potentially see them play nine times across three different competitions, as they continue their pursuit of an unprecedented ‘quadruple’. 

Keeping players fit and healthy will be key, and ensuring that Salah and Mane are firing is massive for Klopp. They are Liverpool’s game-changers, responsible for more than 250 goals between them over the past five seasons. With them on the pitch, the Reds will always have a chance.

The perceived ‘rivalry’ between the pair is regularly discussed, and is regularly overplayed if truth be told. There have been some signs of dissent, most memorably at Burnley in 2019, but their relationship is strong. 

When Mane scored that winning penalty at Afcon, one of his first thoughts was to offer his commiserations to Salah, and once the pair had returned to Merseyside, the subject of the final, or indeed this upcoming play-off, has been left alone.

“We don’t talk about it,” Mane told Que Golazo last month. 

Liverpool attracted criticism in some quarters for not making more of a fuss of Mane’s Afcon win, but it is understood that the man himself was at least partly responsible for that. Either way, both he and Salah received rapturous receptions from fans upon their return to Reds action. 

Both have continued to perform since, too. Mane has four goals since his return, and Salah five.

“A force of nature,” Klopp has called them. 

He knows he can count on their fitness and conditioning, for sure, but also their mental toughness. Whatever the result in the play-off fixture, don’t expect it to affect either player’s level for Liverpool.

“These two boys are real warriors,” Klopp said prior to the Afcon final. “They are constantly ready, never worried about holidays or days off.

“Nobody asks how they will deal with [success or failure]. I don’t think it will be a problem.”

What about their Anfeld futures?

Of course, the wider issue surrounding both Salah and Mane concerns their contract situations at Liverpool.

Both are set to enter the final 12 months of their respective deals in the summer and, as things stand, there has been little or no sign of progress towards a renewal in either case.

Salah’s has attracted more attention, a consequence of his relentless consistency and the willingness of his agent, Ramy Abbas Issa, to fan the flames on social media, but Mane faces an uncertain future too.

He would like to stay at Anfield in an ideal world, but there are certainly clubs who are hoping to give him a decision to make, either this year or next.

Liverpool, we know, have already started to put the pieces in place for Klopp’s next great side.

Players like Diogo Jota, Ibrahima Konate, Harvey Elliott and Luis Diaz, who arrived in January, have been signed with the future in mind, while others – Trent Alexander-Arnold, Andy Robertson, Virgil van Dijk, Fabinho, Alisson Becker – have been tied down for the foreseeable with long-term contracts.

The fact that Salah and Mane (and to a lesser extent Roberto Firmino) have not yet extended has certainly got fans concerned, and there are plenty who believe that Fenway Sports Group, the club’s owners, are preparing to sell one, or perhaps both, of their star forwards this summer.

That seems unlikely, especially as we know Liverpool are willing to give Salah a contract that would make him the highest-paid player in the club’s history.

There is still optimism that a deal will eventually be reached, although it appears to be some way off at this point in time.

In Mane’s case, the trail is even colder. He is said to be "relaxed" about his situation, but already reports have begun to emerge linking him with other clubs. And without a resolution in sight, speculation is only likely to grow in the coming weeks.

First and foremost, though, both he and Salah have business to take care of.

Senegal got the glory at Afcon, but can Egypt exact revenge over two legs and book their place at the World Cup?

Whatever happens, expect the Liverpool boys to play a huge role once more.