Liverpool centre-back Mamadou Sakho has received a 30-day suspension as UEFA begin disciplinary proceedings against the Frenchman for failing a drugs test.
Despite missing the 2-2 weekend draw with Newcastle United, tonight’s Europa League semi-final first leg with Villarreal will be the first official match in the sin bin as he prepares for a long stint on the sidelines.
Assuming he is found guilty, the Frenchman can expect to be banned for at least six months, the length of the punishment doled out to teammate Kolo Toure in 2011 after the Ivorian had committed a similar offence.
Having emerged as a standout performer in Liverpool’s backline in recent months, the news comes as an obvious blow for the Reds as they prepare for their hugely important last-four clash with Villarreal.
Fan fears about what might happen in Sakho’s absence have been exacerbated by the Newcastle capitulation last time out, when Jurgen Klopp’s side quandered a two-goal lead to share the spoils with a team who, prior to that game, had lost ten straight away trips across all competitions and had mustered just ten league goals on their travels all season.
Seeing one sixth of the Magpies entire allocation of road strikes come at Anfield, there’s certainly some substance behind the supporter concerns for the rest of the campaign and beyond, but a quick scan of their record without the 26-year-old will allay all worries.
Liverpool are yet to lose a match without Sakho in 2016, with their most recent reverse minus the French international coming in the corresponding clash with Newcastle.
In fact, that defeat is the only one Klopp has endured without the centre-back in the ranks since taking the reigns.
They had won five of the eight outings he missed in 2016 before last weekend, drawing the remaining three, which is an identical return from the eight games in 2015 where the German didn’t start Sakho.
Furthermore, some of the Liverpool’s most impressive results this term were registered when the former Paris Saint-Germain star has been shelved.
He played no part in their league double over Manchester City, where seven goals were scored and just one conceded, nor was he present for the 6-1 mauling of Southampton at St Mary’s.
Sakho may have been first choice up until his suspension, but exploits in his absence prove Liverpool can cope without him and their 57/100 favouritism to qualify for the Europa League final must be respected.