Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp admitted on Monday that Sadio Mane might miss their crunch clash with Premier League leaders Chelsea at Anfield on Tuesday, despite their best efforts to rush the Senegal star back from the Africa Cup of Nations.
The Merseysiders sent a private jet to Gabon on Sunday following Senegal’s exit from the competition, with Mane heartbroken after missing the decisive penalty in a 5-4 shoot-out quarter-final loss to Cameroon.
But problems with the flight delayed his arrival back in Britain and now Klopp will have to decide whether Mane can be on the bench against Chelsea in a match where a faltering Liverpool will kick-off 10 points behind the league leaders.
“I don’t know exactly (when he will be available),” said Klopp of Mane. “The club did an outstanding job to bring him back as soon as possible and he is now on his way.
“We thought it would be possible yesterday: we had a plane there but he was not allowed to go in the plane so we had to wait.
“He will be here tonight but I spoke to him and it is all good so far.
“He will be in tomorrow morning and we have to make a decision. We have to look in his eyes and see whatever is possible.”
Mane’s absence on international duty has coincided with a dramatic slump in Liverpool’s form that has produced just one win in seven matches (against fourth-tier Plymouth in the FA Cup) and a mere seven goals since he last appeared for the Reds in a 2-2 draw against Sunderland on January 2.
For many at Anfield, the sooner Mane — Liverpool’s joint top-scorer so far this season, is back in a red shirt the better.
But Klopp cautioned against billing the 24-year-old Mane as the saviour of a season that saw Liverpool knocked out of both the League Cup and FA Cup last week.
“It was a strange situation in the Senegal game against Cameroon and I wish not for one second he missed the penalty at the end but it happened so he is coming back,” said Klopp.
“He is a quality player. It is easier if you have him in the team or around the team than when you don’t have him. That’s fair,” the German boss added.
“But it is not that he can decide games by himself or we should expect this.
“We came through December and most of January without Phil Coutinho (sidelined for nearly seven weeks with ankle ligament damage).
“I spoke about a few reasons about why it was not good in January but I don’t want to think about the last few games any more.
“He is kind of an option for the Chelsea game. He is back at least for the Hull game and that is good for us.
“We have to decide whether we can involve him for tomorrow somehow or not.
“Everything is like it was before he left. It is a very good player back for selection, that can only be good news.”