Who is the bigger miss out of Eric Bailly and Sadio Mane during AFCON?
By Nick Wright
Last Updated: 10/01/17 4:41pm
Manchester United and Liverpool go head to head on Nissan Super Sunday with Eric Bailly and Sadio Mane away at the African Nations Cup.
Bailly has joined up with Ivory Coast for the tournament, which kicks off on January 14 in Gabon and finishes with the final on February 5, while Mane is with Senegal.
Which player is the bigger miss for his side? Take a look at the case for each player and have your say at the bottom of the page…
Is Bailly the bigger miss?
Eyebrows were raised when Manchester United paid £30m for a little-known defender from Villarreal with only 46 senior appearances to his name, but Bailly has won over his doubters since introducing himself with a man-of-the-match performance in the Community Shield win over Leicester.
Bailly has gone on to become a commanding presence in United's backline, with his aerial prowess and rapid recovery speed making him a good fit for the Premier League. The stats show he has also averaged more tackles (2.6) and more interceptions (3.2) per 90 minutes than United's other centre-backs.
Mourinho praised his swift adaption back in September. "Eric Bailly comes from a different competition, a different dimension of club," he said. "He is an African player and he is not experienced at this level, but he looks very comfortable at such a big club. For other guys it is different."
Bailly has been widely praised by team-mates, while former United players have also been impressed. "He's dominant in the air, he's physical, he's quick, he's aggressive," said Gary Pallister. "He has all the things that I'd look for in a centre half to play alongside, a player with similar qualities to my old partner Steve Bruce or, in later years, Nemanja Vidic."
Bailly's only serious issue at United has been his fitness, with a knee injury keeping him out for several weeks between October and December. United coped without him thanks to a string of impressive displays from makeshift centre-back pairing Marcos Rojo and Phil Jones, but Rojo's injury at the weekend means his departure to Gabon is a big issue.
Ivory Coast are the favourites to go all the way at AFCON. If they do, Bailly will not be available again until their Premier League clash against Watford on February 11. If Rojo's injury turns out to be serious, Bailly's absence could leave United with just two fit centre-backs for a run of six games in 26 days.
Why Mane's absence is an issue for Liverpool
Liverpool have had 12 different Premier League goal scorers this season but none of them have netted as many as Mane. The 24-year-old been in deadly form, with his close-range strike against Sunderland taking him to nine for the season in his final game before leaving for AFCON.
Mane's goal threat is nothing new - he reached double figures in each of his seasons at Southampton - but he has gone from strength to strength at Anfield and he is on course for his most prolific campaign yet. Dele Alli is the only midfielder in the Premier League to have scored more.
A closer look at the stats highlights his impressive finishing ability. Mane has converted six out of eight clear-cut chances, giving him a superior success rate to Alli and Eden Hazard, and his overall shot conversion rate of 20.9 per cent puts him in the Premier League's top 10 for players with at least 25 efforts on goal.
Liverpool have scored more goals than any other Premier League side this season with 48, but they drew a blank in their first game without Mane as Plymouth Argyle clinched a 0-0 draw at Anfield in the FA Cup. They will be hoping it's not a sign of what's to come, but it's not just goals he brings to the table.
Mane has chipped in with four assists, meaning only five players in the Premier League have had a direct hand in more goals this season, and he also offers tireless work-rate and dynamism which is perfectly suited Jurgen Klopp's high-pressing system. According to Premier League tracking data, he ranks third in the division for total high-intensity sprints.
The Senegal international is vital when it comes to winning the ball back in the opposition's half, and there is no one in Liverpool's squad who offers the same level of pace and penetration. He is a devastating outlet on the counter-attack, and he is often their best bet for finding a way through a packed, deep-lying defence.
While fellow attackers Roberto Firmino, Adam Lallana and Philippe Coutinho have been used in various positions this season, Mane has been practically ever-present on the right, starting all but one of their 20 Premier League games. The exception, by no coincidence, was their 2-0 defeat to Burnley in August.
Mane has added a new dimension to Liverpool's forward line, and his departure to AFCON leaves Klopp with the tricky task of re-jigging his attack. Mane has arguably been Liverpool's most effective player this season. He will be missed.