Liverpool come out of the hectic festive schedule sitting second in the Premier League table with 44 points, five behind leader Chelsea. The Reds haven't won the championship since 1990 and are currently 5/1 to do so on BetOnline soccer odds. Liverpool should receive a healthy boost to their lineup with the likely return of Philippe Coutinho for the first match of the second half of the season against Manchester United on January 15 at Old Trafford.
Coutinho has been out injured since suffering ankle ligament damage in the home win over Sunderland in November but has returned to training with the first team. The 24-year-old Brazilian's original return target was New Year's Eve. But that target was missed and then Manager Jurgen Klopp didn't want to risk Coutinho against Plymouth in the FA Cup or versus Southampton in the EFL Cup semi-final. Klopp has bigger priorities in mind.
Liverpool entered the break in Premier League action off a disappointing 2-2 finish against Sunderland at the Stadium of Light. Jermain Defoe denied Liverpool a fifth successive Premier League victory with a penalty double. The Reds lost leads of 1-0 and 2-1. Liverpool scored first when Daniel Sturridge headed home a wayward shot by Dejan Lovren. The second goal came in the 72nd minute from Sadio Mane, who pounced on a loose ball that came about from a corner. However, Mane's handball with five minutes left gave Defoe the opportunity to score his 11th goal of the season and tie the match. Still, the Reds emerged from their three games inside seven days over the festive period with seven points to stay in second place.
Mane now heads to the Africa Cup of Nations for Senegal, so Coutinho's return to fill the void could be perfect timing. The Africa Cup of Nations starts on January 14 and the final takes place February 5. Senegal are one of the favourites for the tournament, and should Aliou Cisse's team go all the way in Gabon then Mane could miss eight Premier League matches.
Mane, who joined Liverpool for nearly £30m from Southampton last summer, has had a stellar start at Anfield, netting a team-leading nine goals. But he lost out to Riyad Mahrez as the Leicester star was named African Footballer of the Year last week after leading the Foxes to last season's stunning Premier League title. Borussia Dortmund's Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang was second.
Liverpool are 45/17 on soccer odds for the match at Manchester United, who are 6/5 with a draw at 5/2. United come out of the festive period sixth in the table with 39 points. The Red Devils have won six Premier League matches in a row since a 1-1 draw at Everton on December 4. Liverpool and United played to a scoreless draw on October 17 at Anfield. Liverpool were the better side with 65 per cent possession time and nine shots on goal. Coutinho hit a shot that was curling into the far corner only for a flying David De Gea to push wide at full stretch. It was the first draw between these two sides in the Premier League since October 2011.