Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp should use youngster Trent Alexander-Arnold to cover for Sadio Mane's continual participation at the Africa Cup of Nations, according to ex-striker John Aldridge. The Reds have not won either of their Premier League games since Mane joined up with Senegal for the tournament in Gabon, slipping 10 points behind leaders Chelsea with 16 games remaining.
The draw with Manchester United was followed by defeat to relegation-threatened Swansea City; results which have all but ended the club's pursuit of a first league title since 1990. Across the five games in all competition for which Mane has been absent, the Merseysiders have won just once against League Two Plymouth Argyle in the FA Cup.
Though Liverpool's defensive troubles have been central to their problems, goals in the final third have dried up too since Mane's departure. Four have been netted in five games, and Klopp's side must improve on that run if they are to reach the English Football League Cup final, as they bid to overturn a one-goal deficit in the semi-final second leg against Southampton.
And in an effort to arrest Liverpool's recent issues Aldridge wants to see 18-year-old Alexander-Arnold, who has started three of the last four games at right-back, handed a more prominent position in Mane's role. "The lad is quick, has played in midfield at youth level and we need someone there with pace to stretch teams like Mane does," he told the Liverpool Echo.
"We aren't gifted with natural pace in the side and that's what is costing us. It's not ideal, but why not throw Trent in there until Mane comes back? This is a big problem for the manager, but [Adam] Lallana can't be moved any more. I understand why he's going with tried and tested with Emre Can and Gini Wijnaldum in midfield, but it's just not working and one of those should probably make way for Lallana dropping back.
"It does also raise the question to me about the size of the squad too. Could we really afford to leave the team without a real Mane replacement? We knew he would be missing for a few months when we signed him, so I don't know."
Aldridge, who netted 50 career goals for Liverpool, added: "With no Mane, it's an issue. Divock Origi's confidence is so low and he's playing so poorly, it's ridiculous. Can Daniel Sturridge play there? We just don't know. He popped up there against Swansea but he was coming too deep.
"In fairness to Jurgen, maybe he thought he had players to cope with his absence in Origi and Sturridge. They're both quick, direct and have proven themselves in this league, so it wasn't a stretch thinking they could. But for them two in particular right now, it's just not happening. You can't say they haven't had plenty of opportunities between them, but for whatever reason, it's not working out."
Though Liverpool are guaranteed to be without Mane against Southampton in the EFL Cup and Wolverhampton Wanderers in the FA Cup fourth round, he could yet return before the end of the month. Senegal face Cameroon in the quarter-finals of the Africa Cup of Nations on 28 January, and should they be knocked out he could return in time to face Chelsea for his club three days later.
However, if the Lions of Teranga progress to the last four, Mane will be assured of missing both the visit of the Premier League leaders on 31 January and the trip to Hull City on 4 February.