Liverpool’s time without Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mane and Naby Keita due to the Africa Cup of Nations has well and truly started, with all three jetting off to join their national side.
Both Salah and Mane started against Chelsea in what was their final outing before linking up with Egypt and Senegal respectively, while Keita featured off the bench for the final 20 minutes.
The goals from Salah and Mane ought to have been enough to seal all three points at Stamford Bridge and act as the perfect farewell, but Liverpool’s soft underbelly made that unattainable.
And after the final whistle, they wasted little time in starting their preparations for AFCON as they each boarded a jet just seven days out from the start of the tournament.
Mane joined Chelsea‘s Edouard Mendy on a private jet, Salah was accompanied by national compatriot Trezeguet and Keita made his own way to Rwanda to link up with the Guinea squad – who were given a bizarre pep talk.
Keita and Mane will be the first to get their AFCON campaign underway with their respective opening game scheduled for January 10, while Salah will feature a day later for Egypt.
And January 14 will see Liverpool’s No. 10 and No. 8 go head to head after both Senegal and Guinea were drawn in Group B, making it a must-watch for Reds.
At a time when Covid is prevalent and there are still injuries to manage, it leaves Liverpool without three key assets but the show must go on.
Their absence has long been known for the remainder of this month and possibly into February, with a place in the final for any of the trio to keep them away until February 6.
LFC Games During AFCON
They will all miss the double against Arsenal, Shrewsbury and Brentford, with their progress in the tournament then to determine if they are back and available for Crystal Palace on January 23, or if they are only to return against Leicester on February 10.
But they go with the club’s best wishes, with Pep Lijnders encouraging them to “Go and try with everything you have and try and win it. Then you become an even bigger legend.”