THEY say every cloud has a silver lining. That good always comes out of bad. That when a door closes, a window opens — which is more a sign of shoddy workmanship than optimism, but there we are.
When Phil Coutinho smacked his foot against Didier Ndong (who with a name like that belongs in a French version of Viz more than on a football pitch), the sharp intake of breath from the 51,000 Reds fans in attendance could have sucked the glasses right off Jürgen Klopp’s face.
The little Brazilian was in clear agony and was carried off with his leg in a brace. The still picture of his right foot facing away at an angle adjacent to his left would have made Charlie Chaplin proud, but it made me and I’m sure countless others physically sick. Not because it was particularly gruesome, but because there’s no way a foot that has pointed that far away from where it’s meant to will be ready to play football again any time soon.
As of writing the exact timescale of Coutinho’s absence has not been confirmed, but reliable Times journalist Paul Joyce has said that it will be a long one, even though there is no break. Damaged ligaments are usually a matter of months rather than weeks.
However, we have all rightly been giddy with how good Liverpool have been this season, and one of the main reasons that this team feels different to others that have reached for the stars is that it feels like more of an even collective effort.
Not that the teams of 2008/9 and 2013/14 didn’t equally pull their weight, but there were more obvious superstars of those teams who made the difference more often than not. It has felt like this team has more shared responsibility, but that theory will now be put to the ultimate test as the one player who you could make an argument for being Liverpool’s talisman, the main guy, will be out for the foreseeable future.
So what does Klopp do now heading into the busiest period of the season without the little magician, aside from trying to buy bulk amounts of horse placenta in the Cyber Monday sales?
The obvious would be to go to the team that beat Leicester 4-1 (Dejan Lovren for Lucas aside). Once Adam Lallana and Daniel Sturridge are back fit, a midfield three of Jordan Henderson, Lallana and Gini Wijnaldum behind a front three of Sadio Mané, Roberto Firmino and Sturridge should be more than capable of beating most opposition.
But what if not all of those players are fit? Lallana, Sturridge and Firmino are all carrying knocks at the moment, while there’s no guarantee yet that Coutinho will be back before Mané heads off to the African Cup of Nations.
While it was great seeing young Ben Woodburn get on the pitch on Saturday (no “he’s one of our own” chants, please), the likes of he and Ovie Ejaria are not yet ready to be relied on in league games on a regular basis and need to be eased in the way they have been. The returning Sheyi Ojo may fancy his chances of more game time, but having been out for so long and still being relatively raw himself, also cannot be a lock in for a regular spot in the team just yet.
With Danny Ings out for the season, that pretty much leaves just one alternative, but he’s not a bad one by any means.
Divock Origi was the match winner on Saturday, but also put in an effective and selfless all-round performance, made all the more impressive by the fact that he came off the bench completely unexpectedly.
The Belgian striker has had a low-key start to this season after a fairly spectacular second half to last season. He was in the form of his life before Ramiro Funes Mori cynically and deliberately injured him in the derby to halt his progress and almost end his season.
Due to the form of others, he has had to settle for cameo appearances off the bench this campaign, finding himself getting just a handful of minutes here or there to close out games rather than to win them. It has been hard for him to make much of a mark on games, but then he has always struck me as the type of player who needs a running start, not one who can necessarily make an immediate impact.
However, in the absence of Coutinho and with the fitness of other players far from reliable, now could well be his chance to get a run of games again and get back to the form that he — and we — enjoyed last season.
Klopp showed immense faith in him in 2015/16 as he regularly turned to him over Sturridge in crucial games, feeling that Origi’s style of play suited his setup better. This proved to be faith well placed as the 21-year old terrorised the likes of Dortmund, Everton and Stoke among others as he set about not just scoring goals, but creating them too.
He managed 10 goals and three assists last season from just 19 starts and as many sub appearances.
His goal on Saturday showed what he brings to this team, pulling wide to open up the Sunderland defence, bringing them out of position for a moment while others got into the box, then played what is now becoming a trademark shot across the keeper and into the far corner. I believe it was a shot, but with the intent that it either goes straight in, or a teammate gets a touch on it and makes sure. Either way it generally causes chaos.
Having that kind of presence in the team gives Liverpool an extra dimension, and will cause the opposition to have to rethink how they’re going to defend against this relentless Red machine. In recent games you could see that while the imperious front three of Mané, Firmino and Coutinho were still capable of great moments, the opposition had spent all week planning to shut them out based on intelligence gathered from watching other teams fall to them. Now with this forced change, Liverpool will have to have a new threat, and in Origi they have a genuine threat.
In an ideal world, Coutinho will only be out for a short time, and I’m already counting down the days to when I can see him further stake his claim for the Ballon d’Or, but his loss could well be Origi’s gain and, in a roundabout way, it could also be a huge benefit for Liverpool as this season progresses.
Before this, you couldn’t really see where Origi was going to get his games, aside from the EFL Cup, but now with either he or Sturridge presumably starting games until Coutinho’s return, both now have the opportunity to play their way into form and to make a case for remaining there once everyone is fit again.
Origi is well up for the challenge. He told the Liverpool Echo after the game on Saturday:
“As a young player your life is football. When you’re on the pitch you enjoy yourself and when you are not on the pitch you have to accept it.
“You have to know it is a professional world and we have a very good team. You have to stay positive and believe in yourself. You never know when the team will need you.
“I believe in my qualities and against Sunderland I had my chance.
“Training has been going well and I was eager to show it in the game. I played with passion and hunger. Whenever the manager needs me I will be ready.”
Working with Thierry Henry at international level can only be of further benefit to him, especially as he shares several of the attributes that made the Arsenal legend one of the all-time greats, while having the belief of his club manager means that he has a perfect platform to showcase his talents.
Personally I’d love to see Origi and Sturridge get some starts together. In the two times they have played together (from memory), they were outstanding working off each other in the second half against Stoke last season, and at times were unplayable against Spurs in the last round of the EFL Cup.
Liverpool went into this campaign believing they had increased competition in the squad. Now is the first real test of that. Let’s have it, lads.
Show us what you’ve got, Big Divvy.
Up the window opening Reds.