As Jurgen Klopp contemplated facing an explosive showdown against Manchester United without a recognised centre half, he offered a muttered response.
“After the United game we will obviously play every three days again, so… for the United game, we will see,” he said of a potential return for the injured Joel Matip.
The implication from the manager was clear: despite the importance of the contest, the run of games which follow will define Liverpool ’s season, and so he must see the bigger picture.
Klopp more than anyone knows what his side face – 10 defining games in just 34 days, including Premier League matches against ALL of the other sides currently in the top six.
He knows too, what a difference a year makes as he prepares to welcome United to Anfield. This time last year victory over their bitter rivals all but confirmed Liverpool as champions-elect.
Going into that game on January 19, they were 13 points clear with two games in hand over Manchester City … and 27 points ahead of United; after a run of 15 matches which saw them win 13 and lose only one.
This season has been in stark contrast. Since November 25 they have played 12 matches, and won just five, placing them in this tough position.
Klopp is clear on the cause: that injury crisis in central defence, in the long term absence of Virgil van Dijk and Joe Gomez, and Matip’s continuing injury issues.
Since he became manager he has selected 41 different centre half pairings, and this season has contributed significantly to that statistic.
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It's been an extremely interesting start to the season for Jurgen Klopp's men.
They got their title defence off to a shaky start as they edged out a seven-goal thriller against Leeds, before going on to conceded seven in a hammering by Aston Villa.
Virgil van Dijk's season was ended by injury in the 2-2 draw at Everton, leaving the title favourites looking far less secure at the back – especially with Alisson's injury worries too.
But there's no slowing down in what is going to be a busy campaign – with Klopp ensuring his men continue at full pace as they bid for more title glory.
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He knew going into the season with only three senior central defenders was a risk. He knows now, going into the second half of the campaign is a greater risk that borders on the reckless in terms of defending the title.
For Klopp the issue doesn’t stop at his back line. He knows it has implications all over the pitch – as the last three Premier League games have proven.
Against West Brom, Newcastle, and Southampton, they mustered just seven shots on target, and only one goal and two points.
“Playing with different centre halves constantly changed everything: it changed the protection of the game, the whole set-up is different,” he said.
“We cannot sort it now in the transfer market. The club tries what it can, but January is not the easiest window, and on top of that it is not having the money exactly as you want.
“Would one centre half help and sort all our problems? Maybe for a game or two and then he could be injured as well.”
So Klopp enters the showdown with United without the centre half he needs, and without the buffer that victories over the likes of Fulham, West Brom, Newcastle and Brighton would have brought.
The next 10 games are make or break for Liverpool. And their manager knows it more than anyone. It is time for him to stand up and show his class and for his team to show they are a truly great side.
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