For all the talk of Liverpool’s title challenge being a team effort, the Reds clearly have some players who stand above the rest, none more so than Philippe Coutinho.
Heavily involved in all of Liverpool’s exhilarating offensive play, the dynamite Brazilian has been enjoying his best form to date since joining the club in January 2013, with five goals and six assists already to his name.
Unfortunately, today it has been announced that the 24 year old will be out of action for around five to six weeks, certainly until 2017, with an ankle injury. After being stretchered off in Liverpool’s 2-0 victory over Sunderland, the news will represent a devastating blow to Jurgen Klopp, as he now has to construct his team in the short-term without its lynchpin.
Indeed, when Coutinho went off injured, the Reds, already below-par, struggled for any fluency against a stubborn and determined Sunderland side, who had claimed back-to-back wins and were in no mood to leave Anfield without another result.
How will Reds cope in Coutinho's absence?
Liverpool created plenty of chances but again their incisiveness in front of goal was missing, and Klopp’s side have yet to shake off all of the sluggishness since the international break.
That they managed to come through and gain the three points in such scrappy fashion is undoubtedly a positive sign, as winning when not at your best is normally vital when challenging for the title.
Yet they had Divock Origi to thank for the victory – a figure who has yet to start in the Premier League for Liverpool this season. The 21 year old cruelly fell victim to injury just as he was establishing himself as Klopp’s premier forward, and it has taken months for the Belgian international to get back up to full speed.
However, Origi is exactly the type of player in the squad who will be required to step up in the weeks ahead while Coutinho is absent. If he can return to the form that tormented the likes of Stoke City and Everton around Easter then Coutinho’s absence may not be felt in the short-term.
It would mean restructuring the side to an extent – unless Klopp alters to a two-striker formation, Roberto Firmino will have to take position out wide, away from his highly successful false nine role.
However, Liverpool’s other breath-taking Brazilian attacker is versatile enough to remain influential in the side, and a front three with Origi at its head still possesses plenty of versatility, so the impact on Liverpool’s fluidity going forward with Coutinho missing should be limited.
There are other options beyond Origi, such as Daniel Sturridge, who’s prolificacy in front of goal is beyond question. However, Klopp may feel his side lose their spark offensively with Sturridge leading the attack, becoming more individual in their style and limiting the effectiveness of their forward press.
Regardless, Liverpool have the strength in depth to survive the absence of one prominent figure, as long as the rest remain fit. Adam Lallana is due back in training this week ahead of the trip to Bournemouth in the Premier League, with a reserve side likely for the home quarter-final tie against Leeds United in the League Cup.
Alongside Coutinho, Lallana is the other playmaker in the side, particularly this season as he has been deployed more centrally by Klopp, with Liverpool reaping the rewards of Lallana’s finest run of form at Anfield.
A chance for Origi or Sturridge to shine?
His importance to the side has now increased dramatically with Coutinho’s injury, and the England international will have to continue this new upsurge in his career for the Reds to maintain their devastating ability at scoring mountains of goals.
However, once Coutinho returns it is likely we will see the departure of another forward in Sadio Mane, who is set to represent Senegal in the African Cup of Nations, and will consequently be unavailable for around a month.
Therefore, for the foreseeable future, Liverpool will be without their most effective attacking trio, so the likes of Origi and Sturridge will have plenty of chances to stake their claim in the side and maintain Liverpool’s edge going forward, as their title hopes could very well depend on the previously marginalised strikers.
Klopp may add another attacker in January, which would be wise given Liverpool do not possess many senior wingers at the club, with Mane arguably the only option at present, and Fenway Sports Group have made it clear that there is money to spend.
If Klopp feels he cannot rely on the squad he has, then strengthening in the winter window is essential, as the loss of Coutinho and future absence of Mane cannot be allowed to wreck Liverpool’s chances of a maiden Premier League title.