Sadio Mane to return to Liverpool ahead of Chelsea clash after Senegal's AFCON elimination

Sadio Mane to return to Liverpool ahead of Chelsea clash after Senegal's AFCON elimination

Sadio Mane is to return to Liverpool in the next few days after the winger's Senegal side were eliminated from the Africa Cup of Nations quarter-finals by Cameroon on penalties on Saturday night.

Charlie Malam

Sadio Mane will return to Liverpool in the coming days after Senegal were knocked out of the Africa Cup of Nations on penalties at the quarter-final stage on Saturday night. 

The Lions of Teranga fell to Cameroon - whom Liverpool had a dispute with over Joel Matip's availability earlier this month - in a penalty shoot-out after a 0-0 draw in Franceville, Gabon.

Mane lasted the full 120 minutes but saw his penalty, Senegal's fifth and final one, well saved down the middle by goalkeeper Fabrice Ondoa and Vincent Aboubakar lashed Cameroon's final effort from 12-yards into the top corner to seal their place in the semi-finals to face Ghana or DR Congo.

The Liverpool winger was inconsolable afterwards, accompanied by his manager Aliou Cissé and some of the Senegal national team staff as he left in the field in tears.

Mane to return to Liverpool in coming days

But the Reds' No.19 is now expected to report back to Merseyside in the next few days and could be in the squad for Tuesday's visit of Premier League leaders Chelsea at Anfield - although if not, will almost certainly make the selection for next Saturday's trip to Hull City.

Liverpool will hope the disappointment of Senegal's elimination, and the impact of his missed penalty, has no ill effect on Mane's confidence given how key a player he has become for them this term.

His return will be a long-awaited one on Merseyside, even though he has only been missing for three weeks. Liverpool's disastrous form in his absence, winning one of seven games in all competitions without him, and their general performance levels have further demonstrated the importance of Mane to Jürgen Klopp's squad.

Liverpool's joint-top goalscorer has lost only one game for the club - winning 16 and drawing five of his 21 appearances - and that defeat came at Bournemouth, when he was substituted off at 3-1 with 21 minutes to go, only for Liverpool to lose 4-3. 

But more importantly, Mane is the only winger within the first-team squad and the pace, movement and direct running he brings to the eleven has been sorely missed.

Reds have sorely missed main man Mane

With Mane out, Klopp has had to reshuffle his front-line, which has had a knock-on effect to the rest of the team. Roberto Firmino and Adam Lallana have both proved ineffective out wide and either of the pair being played out of their positions has had a damaging affect on the fluency and cohesion of the rest of the team.

Only signed from Southampton in a deal potentially worth up to a club-record £36 million due to add-ons and clauses, Mane has proved a huge hit on Merseyside this term with nine goals and six assists to his name.

And Mane returns with Liverpool's season hanging in the balance after elimination at the semi-final stage of the EFL Cup by his former employers Southampton on Wednesday as well as Saturday's FA Cup fourth-round loss to Championship outfit Wolverhampton Wanderers.

That means Klopp's charges lost three games within a week for the first time since 1998, their Premier League title hopes having took a severe setback in defeat to Swansea City last weekend. 

Liverpool will hope Mane's return can spark a return to the performances that lit up the league in September and October, when their forward line appeared unstoppable. But they must be wary of expecting too much too soon from Mane, even despite his form earlier in the campaign.

Yet they cannot afford any more poor performances. Tuesday's clash with Chelsea has the potential to determine whether Liverpool will play any further part in the title race and defeat would leave them 13 points behind the Blues.