Sadio Mane return vital for Southampton's European chances

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Senegal's elimination from the Africa Cup of Nations will be a huge boost to Southampton as it will allow Sadio Mane to return earlier than expected.

The wide-man was in superb form for the Saints before departing with an injury to represent his country, however their elimination means he will return when they need him most.

Shane Long's rib injury means that Mane's return is even more important, and he could play a key role in pushing Southampton into the European places come the end of the season.

Pace and unpredictability

Before his exit, Mane's link with Graziano Pelle as a front pairing was starting to click and the pacey forward had scored in his last three consecutive games before jetting off.

His return will no doubt give the squad a boost as his unpredictable ability can cause problems to any defender, as shown with his goals against Chelsea and Arsenal at the start of January.

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The injury he sustained had the potential to rule him out of the African Cup but he featured in the last two games although Senegal went out.

Shane Long replacement

With Shane Long picking up a rib injury in the 3-2 loss to Crystal Palace in the FA Cup last weekend, Mane's return could not come at a better time for Ronald Koeman.

Long had made a key impact in the game at Newcastle where his header set Eljero Elia through to score the winner and he had started last weekend as a result.

His injury blow though will be softened by the return of Mane who can fill in out wide on the right or left, as well as playing on the last shoulder with Graziano Pelle playing the target man alongside him.

Full of pace

Mane's return could see Koeman deploy Mane on one wing with Eljero Elia on the other, leaving Southampton with pace and trickery on both flanks.

That would be a nightmare for any Premier League defence with no respite if the players decide to switch wings for a short time.

It also gives Koeman the option to keep one of the pair fresh on the bench to be used as an impact sub.

If one can get through a lot of running in the first 60 or so minutes, swapping them could give any fullback in the league a nightmare for the last half an hour with such pace at their disposal.

European push

Mane's early return will give the Saints a boost as they push for a European qualification place this season.

With a winnable set of fixtures coming up, a good run for Southampton could see them cement a place in the top four before they face leaders Chelsea on March 15th.

The extra option in the squad may also reduce any need for Koeman to enter the transfer market before deadline day which will allow a more calculated approach depending on where his side finish at the end of the season.

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