LIVERPOOL, England -- Before jetting out to Ivory Coast for up to six weeks of Africa Cup of Nations duty with Egypt, Mohamed Salah signed off with two goals and an assist as Liverpool beat Newcastle United 4-2 at Anfield, moving three points clear at the top of the Premier League table. The 31-year-old would have waved farewell with a hat trick had his first-half penalty kick not been saved by goalkeeper Martin Dúbravka.

Liverpool are about to discover what life without Salah looks like -- and the timing couldn't be much worse for manager Jurgen Klopp and his title-chasing team.

Every club has their indispensable players, but none are more important than Salah is to Liverpool. Manchester City have coped without prolific goalscorer Erling Haaland during his recent injury layoff, going unbeaten in their last seven games without him, and Klopp's side must now do the same without Salah.

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With champions Man City five points adrift of Liverpool, with a game in hand, it seems clear that we are set for a renewal of the intense rivalry between the two clubs in the second half of the season, with both knowing that any slip will be pounced upon by the other.

So just when Liverpool need to put their foot on the pedal and increase the pressure on City -- and fellow title challengers Aston Villa and Arsenal -- the Reds must prepare to be without their talisman for up to six weeks. If Egypt make it all the way to the AFCON final in Abidjan on Feb. 11, Salah will miss four Premier League games, including a trip to Arsenal on Feb 4.

As the most successful nation in AFCON history with seven titles, and having reached two of the last three finals, it would be wishful thinking to expect Egypt to be out early enough for Salah to return to club football before mid-February, so it is now up to Darwin Núñez, Diogo Jota, Luis Díaz and Cody Gakpo to prove that they can fill the void.

"I want to win," Salah said when asked about his AFCON commitments. "It means a lot to play for the national team. It's something I cannot take for granted. I would love to win it."

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Having rejected a £150 million offer for the forward from Saudi Pro League side Al Ittihad in August, Liverpool ensured that Salah would remain at Anfield and play a central role in their attempt to win the Premier League title this season. But there is a fear within Anfield that Al Ittihad will be back again this summer with another huge bid that proves too much for both the club and player to turn down as Salah enters the final year of his Liverpool contract at the end of the season.

But the value of keeping Salah earlier this season has been borne out by his contribution so far this campaign. His goals against Newcastle on Monday took him to 14 in the league, making him joint-leading scorer in the league alongside City's Haaland, and Salah also took his assist tally to eight having teed up Gakpo with a classy cross with the outside of his boot in the second-half.

"He's a goalscoring machine," Klopp said of Salah. "He will never stop doing these these things."

Salah is Liverpool's cutting edge but also their creator-in-chief. Only Nunez, with six, comes close to Salah's assist tally -- nobody at Anfield comes close to his goal output. Salah is now tied with Ollie Watkins for the most assists in the Premier League this season.

But Salah's reliability is now a problem that Klopp must overcome. Between them, Liverpool's other forwards have 16 league goals and nine assists this season. Those aren't unimpressive numbers, but when you are chasing a title, especially when trying to keep a side as ruthless as Man City at bay, you need every advantage and being without Salah is a huge disadvantage for Liverpool.

Liverpool don't have much margin for error in a tight Premier League title race, but they will need to make due once Mohamed Salah leaves for AFCON. John Powell/Liverpool via Getty Images

The only positive for Klopp and his team is that January is largely taken up by domestic cup fixtures -- Liverpool only have two more league games this month, away to Bournemouth and at home to Chelsea, before facing Arsenal and Burnley in early February. By the time that Salah should definitely be back for the trip to Brentford on Feb. 17, who knows where Liverpool will be in the title race?

Salah dominated Monday's game against Newcastle. Dubravka also stood out, especially when saving Salah's penalty, but the Newcastle keeper couldn't keep out the red tide as Salah's double and strikes from Gakpo and Curtis Jones sealed victory, with Alexander Isak and Sven Botman on the scoresheet for Newcastle.

Whether Salah should have had the opportunity to score his second goal, and redeem himself with another penalty, is debatable due to Jota winning the penalty after a delayed fall following the slightest of contact from Dubravka. But despite the decision angering Newcastle manager Eddie Howe -- "It shouldn't be given; he (Jota) has had two steps before going down," Howe said -- it wasn't an incident that influenced the outcome of the game.

Salah was the key determinant against Newcastle. He scored when it mattered and stepped up when his team needed him most. That's what Salah has always done, so there is no question that Liverpool face a challenge in coping without him for the next six weeks.