Sadio Mane has vowed to return better than before after the Liverpool forward underwent knee surgery, which is expected to keep him out for the rest of the season. The Senegal international picked up the injury in the Merseyside derby win over Everton on 1 April but is unlikely to feature again this term.
The 25-year-old went under the knife on 11 April, with manager Jurgen Klopp not expecting to be able to call upon the wideman in any of the Reds' final six games. The club face West Bromwich Albion, Crystal Palace, Watford, Southampton, West Ham United and Middlesbrough during a run-in that will decide whether they qualify for next season's Champions League.
Mane came through the procedure without any complications and is on course to recover in time for next season, when he has warned Liverpool's rivals he will return better than ever. The former Southampton star has scored 13 goals and made eight assists this term, but insists this injury will make him stronger.
"It's great that I have received so many encouraging messages from fans around the world, particularly on social media," he told the club's official website. "It makes me proud and gives me so much power that so many supporters of Liverpool FC and Senegal give me such great support. I'd like to say thank you to everyone. I will give my very best after yesterday's successful surgery to be back on the pitch as soon as possible and be even better than before."
Though Klopp's men have a six-point cushion over fifth-place Manchester United in the race for the top four, Mane's absence leaves the Merseysiders depleted in the closing weeks of the season. Adam Lallana, Jordan Henderson, Danny Ings, Adam Bogdan and Ovie Ejaria already occupy the treatment table, while Philippe Coutinho and Roberto Firmino were left out of the win at Stoke City due to various fitness concerns.
Coutinho and Firmino both came off the bench to rescue Liverpool at the Britannia Stadium, with second-half goals keeping the club on course for a return to Europe's premier club competition. And James Milner believes the club must continue to "suck it up" between now and the end of the campaign.
"The treatment table is a busy place at the moment, unfortunately," the ex-England international said. "We have proved by winning that the squad is there. The Brazilian lads carrying injuries, Phil being ill the other night, we hadn't seen him for two days and he comes on and does that. Roberto is struggling.
"It was a good job it wasn't windy because I think Phil would have blown away – he lost a lot of weight! I am buzzing for him, it's fantastic, it shows what a big player for us he is and his desire to come and do that after a tough 48 hours.
"We have injuries all over the place, it is that time of the year and you just have to suck it up and keep going. Like I say, the desire and heart from the squad is always there. We just need that consistency really."