Can Klopp counter loss of Mane man?

CALL it the butterfly effect. A Senegalese footballer tears a hamstring in the Cape Verde Islands: the resultant tornado could be about to batter the red half of Merseyside.

Seldom can the curse of an international break have hit as hard as Sadio Mane's 89th-minute injury in Senegal's World Cup qualifier did Liverpool FC.

Arsene Wenger famously compared it to finding your car dumped in a field with no petrol: Jurgen Klopp has just found his needs a new engine – at least for six weeks.

Losing your main man for a crucial period is one thing; doing so when you're already the butt of jokes for your defensive lapses and face Manchester United next is quite another.

No one will relish throwing salt into the wounds more than Jose Mourinho – and he is already flapping his wings. "Liverpool can still win the title," he says with a smirk. No one is better at mind games.

United would not have been confident of visiting Anfield as they have two key men missing themselves: long-term casualty Paul Pogba and joke figure-turned-cult hero Marouane Fellaini, who also fell victim to the hazards of World Cup qualifiers.

But the loss of Mane tilts the balance. United have a deeper squad and can cope better. Liverpool have no one who comes anywhere near to posing the threat of the jet-heeled Senegalese.

Yes, they have the similarly quick Mohamed Salah on the other wing and he's on a high having just sent Egypt to the finals. But even the lightning-fast Pharoah does not bring the fear factor of Mane.

His recruitment was a brilliant move that has seen the combined threat of the two Africans become greater than the sum of their parts. One of them can be stifled by sheer numbers but having turbo-charged flyers on both sides is the perfect counter to such tactics. Close one down and a team becomes vulnerable to a breakaway on the other flank.

You can be sure that Klopp couldn't wait to unleash these two on a big, tough but sometimes statuesque United rearguard. And just who he chooses to replace Mane with does not fill Kopites with confidence.

There will have to be a rejig but someone will come in and none of Daniel Sturridge, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Dominic Solanke, Danny Ings or Ben Woodburn are likely to cause Mourinho sleepless nights.

If anybody is short of zeds this week it will be Klopp and his cerebral sidekick Zeljko Buvac as they grapple for a formation. And they better hope that neither Philippe Coutinho nor Roberto Firmino bang their head on the overhead lockers of their executive jet from Brazil.

Make no mistake, this is potentially a big moment in Klopp's tenure. If he can outwit Mourinho, especially when the odds are stacked against him, Liverpool's season will receive a massive boost.

Instead of one of moaning about defensive frailties, the current mood would change to celebrating the manager's inspirational powers and maybe even his tactical wizardry.

He will certainly have to be at his most astute, especially if he opts for his £35m recruit from Arsenal. No Red is quite sure why the Ox was bought at all, let alone for such a high fee.

With a career scoring record of one goal in eight games and currently zero confidence, the England man is anything but a like-for-like for Mane who has bagged 16 in his last 31. But Klopp obviously saw something in him, as he did Solanke, picked up for a song from Chelsea.

And here we see just one of the fundamental differences in approach between the two coaches. Klopp is a long haul man, intent on improving players and giving youth a chance, whereas Mourinho is after the instant fix – hence his disdain for youth and success no later than his second season.

Both suit their respective owners to a T and, as argued in this column last week, Liverpool's are not here for the fast buck. It explains why they hired Klopp whom they saw as the coach best equipped to make up for their cash shortfall with the big boys.

Saturday's game will boil down to a clash of managerial philosophies as well as styles. Klopp is the nice guy who said: "I want to be something like a friend of the player". Hence the hugs, the patience with mistakes and sometimes even a defence of the indefensible.

Mourinho will never be accused of that. Look at his treatment of Luke Shaw if you want to see ruthlessness. Compare that to Klopp's staunch support of his own defenders.

The current accident-prone spell is something new for the German whose Bundesliga teams were solid at the back. So he has to be given time. But whether it is a system failure or individual lapses, the anxiety felt around Anfield has become tangible.

Almost everyone likes the manager and the vast majority are still with him. But if he were to suffer a bad defeat tomorrow, especially with more self-inflicted wounds, he could find himself under pressure.

The Fenway Sports Group are sure to show the same determination to hang on to him as they did Coutinho, but it won't stop the critics.

Only last week, he complained about unfairness: losing his best player in the last minute of a game played on a tiny speck in the Atlantic Ocean is by any standards, a*se luck.

But if he were looking for inspiration, he can turn to Pep Guardiola who met the injuries to Benjamin Mendy and Sergio Aguero by saying: "We are above that [making excuses]. If we are the team we want to be we can still win." And City did.

Klopp's problem is that Liverpool are not quite there yet but he will look to his big players to stand tall and no one more than the modest-sized Brazilian he fought so hard to keep. Expect Mourinho to put Ander Herrera on Coutinho who, like Messi did for Argentina, has the ability to carry his team.

Given the unfairness and unstoppable momentum of social media, this game could either see a relentless campaign build against him or the fever breaking to allow a return to proper health. Even as a neutral, this column is hoping it's the latter.


• Bob will be signing his book, Living Dream or Enduring the Nightmare?, at Sid's Pub, Bangsar South, from 6pm on Saturday, Oct 14 before the Liverpool vs Manchester United game.