“Liverpool Stealthily Secures Mohamed Salah’s Replacement, Surprising Everyone.”
Liverpool will have to make do without Mohamed Salah’s services in January and February when the Egyptian departs for the Africa Cup of Nations
Liverpool are again set to be without Mohamed Salah in the new year, with the forward likely to captain Egypt at next year’s Africa Cup of Nations.
With the finals set to take place from January 13 to February 11 in Ivory Coast, the 31-year-old could miss at least five matches, with four coming in the Premier League, if the Pharaohs reached the final. Throw in progression in the FA Cup and League Cup and such a total rises to eight games, with the possibility of replays in the former even ruling Salah out of a potential 10 outings.
Salah missed six matches for his AFCON exploits in 2022 as he helped Egypt reach the final, only to lose on penalties to Sadio Mane’s Senegal.
While there is no guarantee of the Pharaohs again reaching the final, or Liverpool progressing to the FA Cup fourth round and League Cup semi-finals, he is in line to miss back-to-back league clashes with Chelsea and Arsenal if Egypt qualify for the knockout stages of the tournament.
During the last edition of AFCON in 2022, Diogo Jota, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Takumi Minamino, and Kaide Gordon would all start on the right in Salah’s absence. Yet while the Portuguese remains an option, the former Arsenal man has just left at the end of his contract, the Japanese was sold to AS Monaco last summer, and the teenager hasn’t played since February 2022 because of injury.
Last season, Harvey Elliott would also take up the mantle in the rare absence of the Egyptian. When AFCON takes place in Ivory Coast in January and February, you’d expect the England Under-21s international and Jota to share the burden of covering for Salah, though Luis Diaz is also an option. Should he be back in first team contention after a lengthy injury, Gordon too could come back into contention, though highly-rated youngster Ben Doak, a contender himself, has arguably usurped him on the waiting list.
It is partly because of Doak why Liverpool won’t look to sign a new forward this summer, despite Roberto Firmino’s own exit. Despite still being just 17, the Reds don’t want to block the path and progress of the teenage right-winger, and are arguably well-covered in attack with Darwin Nunez and Cody Gakpo completing Jurgen Klopp’s five-man senior quota alongside Salah, Jota, and Diaz.
Supporter pleas for a further forward, along with a new senior right-back, are likely to be ignored as a result, with a third midfield signing and a left-sided center-back instead the current priorities at Anfield. Not boasting unlimited funds, Liverpool bosses ultimately have to choose their battles when it comes to which positions carry the greater need for strengthening in Klopp’s squad.
However, Liverpool have potentially just killed two birds with one stone courtesy of their latest midfield signing – £60m Dominik Szoboszlai.
The former RB Leipzig playmaker is incredibly versatile, capable of playing as a number eight, a number ten, and on the flanks. Joining fellow summer arrival Alexis Mac Allister at Anfield, the pair are expected to line up in the two advanced midfield roles in Klopp’s side, be it in front of a traditional number six in a 4-3-3 formation or at the top of the box engine-room in Liverpool’s new inverted full-back set-up.
But while all the focus on the Reds’ summer business is very much on strengthening that midfield, it can’t be overlooked that Szoboszlai is also more than capable of stepping up as an alternative to Salah in the front three, despite predominantly lining up on the opposing flank as an inverted forward cutting in from the left when utilised further forward in the past.
The Hungary international is famous for his long-range shooting, and is obviously suited to that left-wing role as a result. However, he would actually make 31 of his 46 appearances last season on the right flank, as RB Leipzig switched between fielding a three-man attack, and 4-2-3-1 and 4-2-2-2/4-4-2 formations.
From those 31 outings, Szoboszlai would return a respectable eight goals and 12 assists.
While he has limited experience in the 4-3-3 and 3-2-2-3 formations that Liverpool favour, that game-time for Leipzig on the right last year suggests that the Hungarian is likely to fill the advanced midfield role on the right for the Reds, linking up with both the inverted Trent Alexander-Arnold and Salah.
But in the absence of the Egyptian, Szoboszlai could well be the player most suited to occupying the right-wing role as opposed to playing the likes of Jota or Diaz out of their favoured positions. And the fact that the Hungarian also becomes the latest option who can play on the left flank, rivalling the aforementioned pair, Nunez, and Gakpo, beyond his expected midfield role, only reiterates further why Liverpool have signed the 22-year-old.
After all, Klopp loves a versatile player. The German is himself a former defender and striker, with a quick glance across his Reds squads since taking over as manager back in October 2015 making that preference very much clear.
“James Milner can play around 13 positions probably. He probably would be the first choice if all the goalies were out,” he said when speaking to Pro: Direct Soccer about his own versatile players back in 2019.
“Fabinho can play at least two, Trent can play a lot, so we have that. We don’t have that many specialists. People think sometimes it’s a weakness if you’re that versatile, because you think ‘Okay, I don’t have a fixed position, he puts me in there, there, there, then I’m out’.
“It is [a strength]. It helps in building a squad, especially. That helps a lot. Because you don’t have a specialist in these positions, you have three, four, five players that can play really different positions, that helps you a lot.”
In Szoboszlai, Klopp has not only signed the latest cog in Liverpool’s long-awaited midfield revamp, but also the latest ‘non-specialist’ who boasts the very strength he values so highly.