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 for the tournament.
He will be absent until at least January 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 January 31 – a two-legged EFL Cup semi-final against Southampton as well as the start of their FA Cup campaign on the agenda.
However, Liverpool will hope his absence will be offset by the returns of striker Daniel Sturridge, who made his comeback against Everton 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 team-mates and help my team 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. 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.
“That is why the team will be strong [while I am away].”