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AFCON postponement could prove the difference in Liverpool's 2020/21 Premier League title defence

Liverpool may have only been crowned champions of England for less than a week, but already preparations are looming to defending their title next season and Jurgen Klopp has received a timely boost.

The 2021 Africa Cup of Nations was due to take place in January of next year which would have seen the likes of Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mane and Naby Keita all unavailable for potentially five to six weeks next season.

However, the tournament has been rescheduled and pushed back to 2022 meaning Klopp no longer has to fear losing three key assets for a sustained period next season.

Mane and Salah have 32 Premier League goals between them this season and the attacking duo have provided just under half of the goals that saw the Reds crowned champions of England six days ago.

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND – JUNE 24: Mohamed Salah of Liverpool celebrates after he scores his sides second goal with Sadio Mane of Liverpool during the Premier League match between Liverpool FC and Crystal Palace at Anfield on June 24, 2020 in Liverpool, England. (Photo by Paul Ellis/Pool via Getty Images)

The expected loss of Mane, Salah and Keita next season fuelled the need for Liverpool to add attacking firepower in their armoury to cope with the loss and was one of the fundamental reasons that led to supporters desperate to secure the signature of German international Timo Werner, who recently signed for Chelsea.

The prospect of losing such firepower for five to six weeks could have had catastrophic implications to Liverpool’s title defence next season. We saw just how detrimental the absence of one of Liverpool’s front men can have on the team during the dour 0-0 stalemate at Everton when Salah was left out of the starting XI.

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The balance of the team was transformed by the return of Salah who scored upon his return against Crystal Palace and turned provider for Mane during the 4-0 victory that ultimately secured a 19th league title for the Reds.

It’s a significant boost that provides Klopp and Liverpool with another uninterrupted season at club level for both Mane (£34m) and Salah (£34m) who are in the peak ages of their respected careers.

Both players are 28 and are at the height of their powers for the Reds. The Premier League and Champions League-winning duo have been the team’s main source of goals for the past three seasons and the idea of losing not just one but both players seemed unthinkable.

Also, the pushback of the AFCON tournament will allow Keita to hopefully continue to build on the momentum the midfielder has gained since the return to football back in June.

Liverpool’s Guinean midfielder Naby Keita (L) runs with the ball presured by Everton’s English midfielder Tom Davies (R) during the English Premier League football match between Everton and Liverpool at Goodison Park in Liverpool, north west England on June 21, 2020. (Photo by PETER POWELL / POOL / AFP) / RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE. No use with unauthorized audio, video, data, fixture lists, club/league logos or ‘live’ services. Online in-match use limited to 120 images. An additional 40 images may be used in extra time. No video emulation. Social media in-match use limited to 120 images. An additional 40 images may be used in extra time. No use in betting publications, games or single club/league/player publications. / (Photo by PETER POWELL/POOL/AFP via Getty Images)

Liverpool’s third most expensive signing in their history is still yet to lay down a significant marker in the team since his £48 million arrival from RB Leipzig in 2018. He has featured in just 11 PL fixtures for the Reds this season following another campaign that has been plagued by injury.

The 2020/21 will mark Keita’s third season at Anfield since trading the Bundesliga for the Premier League. Liverpool’s No.8 is the only big-money enigma in Klopp’s squad still fighting to prove his quality and next year’s AFCON would have been an untimely distraction at club level.

Keita’s dynamism and creativity provides Klopp an alternate option in midfield and if harnessed correctly could provide the team with more attacking impetus next season.

We still may be seven matches away from statically wrapping up final proceedings for the 2019/2020 Premier League campaign, but the reality that Liverpool will not be losing three vital members of their title-winning squad next season will give supporters a huge boost in believing that the team can replicate the achievements of this season and defend their league crown.

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