Liverpool's enthralling title challenge in the first half of 2016-17 season has amassed a lot of attention, and, as is to be expected in such a scenario, the role and importance of each player in Klopp's best 11 has been dissected and scrutinised heavily.
However, unlike Chelsea, key absences have repeatedly hampered Klopp's hand and the strongest 11 Liverpool can boast of has hardly ever featured on the pitch.
Jordan Henderson – latest Liverpool player on the treatment table
Jordan Henderson, who hobbled off after 60 minutes with a heel injury against Manchester City, is the latest key absentee. Jurgen Klopp seemed optimistic that the Englishman will be fit in time for the clash against Manchester United at Old Trafford, and he may well hope so considering the insipid display Liverpool put on show at the Stadium of Light.
It is a certainty that Henderson would have started if fit; he is one of the fittest players in the Premier League, let alone the Liverpool squad.
Henderson captains the Liverpool side, and his position on the pitch perfectly encapsulates his role as a leader – one moment organising the defence and goalkeeper, and the next, raking a cross field pass to start a lightning counter the next.
Previously utilised in a more attacking role, the current setup enables him to put to better use his stamina and passing range (and maybe come up with the occasional screamer – like he did against Chelsea at Stamford Bridge). He has the most passes, most touches and second most tackles in the league so far this season to his name.
In his absence, Emre Can failed to replicate his dynamism, swagger and reading of the game against Sunderland, leaving Liverpool visibly weaker at both ends of the pitch. While it may have seemed the opposite last season, Can seems to feel more at home further up the pitch this season, in tandem with Liverpool's fearsome attack with his clever flicks and backheels.
So how do Liverpool go about replacing the Liverpool captain? Jurgen Klopp seemed confident after the Sunderland match, "It is ok, we have Emre who can play that position, Lucas, Stewart.”
And yes, while Klopp may admittedly be more concerned about replacing Mane due to a lack of similar players in the squad, Emre / Lucas / Stewart are not like-for-like replacements for Henderson, nor do they possess the same qualities of the former Sunderland midfielder.
The most likely of his replacements, Emre Can, may certainly grow into the role but Klopp surely would have his fingers crossed, hoping his captain would be available for the crunch clash against United at Anfield.
Return of Coutinho from injury to ease the Merseyside club’s worries
The absence of Philippe Coutinho complicates matters as well, since Lallana's withdrawal into the midfield trio again (he played in the forward three vs Manchester City) creates a void up front. However, if Coutinho returns, a midfield trio of Can, Lallana and Wijnaldum will be spearheaded by a forward trio of Coutinho, Firmino and Sturridge (or Origi, depending, once more, on the said player's fitness levels).
This lineup, while it does cram all of Liverpool's best players on the pitch, lacks pace in the final third, and Sturridge no longer as quick as he was before his injury spells.
However, if Klopp's side remain as good in possession as they have demonstrated over half the season (they average 2nd highest percentage of ball possession after Manchester City), the abundance of guile and flair could potentially make up for a lack of raw pace.
Matip injury adds to defensive woes
Joel Matip is another key absentee for the Merseyside club; the team haven’t lost yet this season when the Cameroonian has started. Ragnar Klavan, while being an assured replacement, can be guilty of the occasional off day as against Sunderland and does not quite offer the remarkable quality the Cameroonian has with the ball at his feet.
It has been widely reported that Liverpool are ready to let Lucas leave if a suitable offer materialises; perhaps it suggests Matip is on the brink of return, with
Joe Gomez as his backup.
Come February 1, it will certainly be clear whether Klopp's Reds will be aiming to deliver the elusive league title, or to simply scramble themselves into the top four. Such is the importance of January, with key fixtures in FA Cup, league cup semi-final and league clashes with Manchester United and Chelsea – a season worth of ambitions will be made or broken.
Absence of key personnel does not help of course, but Klopp has successfully navigated his teams to success under such circumstances in the past – Mario Gotze, Marco Reus and Shinji Kagawa were no strangers to injuries. It remains fascinating to see how the greatest entertainers in the Premier League react to the challenges in their path.Published 05 Jan 2017, 12:16 IST