Liverpool are set to be without Mohamed Salah for five of their six matches throughout the month of January.
The club’s top scorer departs for the Africa Cup of Nations following the New Year’s Day clash with Newcastle United and depending on how successful Egypt are, the Liverpool No. 11 could miss up to seven games across all competitions before the tournament finishes in February.
Salah leads the goalscoring charts for the Reds with 12 in the Premier League and only Erling Haaland (14) has more this season. The 31-year-old is also joint-first for assists (seven) and he’s first for Big Chances Created (14). His 19 goal involvements this season also sees him rank first for this particular metric, ahead of Haaland (18).
Jurgen Klopp needs to figure out a way to ensure his side don’t miss the Premier League’s most productive player in what could be a make or break month for the Reds.
Unlike in previous campaigns, Liverpool do actually have genuine options this time around. But who is the best bet to fill in for the prolific, three-time Golden Boot winner?
Let's have a look at the options.
Elliott looks to be the most likely. He was a right-winger during his academy days and he’s started there for the Reds on a few occasions, including the recent 5-1 win over West Ham United in the Carabao Cup.
He is a viable option there, especially given he’s the only other left-footed attacker Liverpool have in their squad, but, personally, I feel he lacks the dynamism to be a real goal threat from that position. Elliott prefers the ball to feet and he’s more of a creator, so using him there would see Liverpool lose something in the final phase. If they can load up the attack elsewhere to combat that, maybe it isn’t a problem.
However, if they try to keep everything the same, the difference in profile between Salah and Elliott would be noticeable. So that is something to ponder.
I can see him starting there but I’m not sure it will be his position throughout the month of January.
Gakpo isn’t the most obvious choice to fill in on the right but he is kind of homeless right now, so maybe he’s given an opportunity there. The Dutchman has played on the left of the attack, as the false-nine and even in midfield this season.
He impressed against Burnley from the left flank but with Diogo Jota returning to full fitness, the former PSV man is battling it out with the Portugal international, Luis Diaz and Darwin Nuñez for minutes.
The No. 18 has experience on the right. Per Transfermarkt, he’s played there on 21 occasions throughout his career. He hasn’t been anywhere near as effective there, scoring just one goal and assisting just four time.
Gakpo isn’t as quick as Salah, or as direct, but Klopp and the coaching staff could well be tempted to use him there as a short-term solution.
A few people have wanted to see Diaz on the right for a while now. His ball-carrying ability might be better suited to that side of the pitch as it would open up spaces centrally for the likes of Trent Alexander-Arnold and Dominik Szoboszlai.
While the dynamic would be completely different to what Salah offers, it might be the best fix. Because it is impossible to replace the No11, so why even look to do a like-for-like switch? Liverpool could use Diaz as more of a traditional winger, perhaps even to test it as a future tactic. After all, it might be the plan for if/when Salah does eventually leave.
He doesn’t have much experience as a right-winger, per Transfermarkt, but he did well there for Liverpool during the 2021/22 campaign on the handful of occasions he was used there.
It isn’t an obvious switch but he’s not in the best of form on the left, maybe this kickstarts what has been a difficult season for the former Porto man.
This is the wildcard shout, but should it be?
Szoboszlai spent the 2022/23 season playing on the right side of attack for RB Leipzig. He was a creative menace and a goal threat from that position. He’s deceptively quick and his off-the-ball movement makes him an intriguing option from that position.
The Liverpool No. 8 is happy overlapping and he’s comfortable underlapping, so he can make those runs into the penalty area that the Reds rely on from their wide forwards.
It would be a bit of an extreme decision to shift Szoboszlai to the attack because it would mean you would be changing the midfield as well as the final third options. It may take some time for everyone to find their feet in the tweaked roles, but the reward could be worth the risk.
He already has an understanding with Alexander-Arnold and it would allow Elliott to play in his favoured right-sided midfield role.