As Fabinho was left lying in a crumpled heap on the floor at Anfield on Wednesday morning (AEDT), Jurgen Klopp’s usual beaming smile was hidden behind a face of concern, firstly for his player, and secondly for his season.
Fabinho was billed as the perfect replacement to fill the chasm left in the red wall left by Jordan Pickford’s reckless challenge on Virgil van Dijk 10 days ago, but now the whole wall is in danger of coming down.
The Brazilian went down in the 30th minute at Anfield, leaving Klopp with just one fit first-team centre half.
He went down with no one around him, as FC Midtjylland attacked down the left flank, something which is a good indication of a fairly serious injury. The one thing that might save him longer on the sidelines was that he was not running at full pelt, although a full prognosis is yet to be given.
“It’s exactly the last thing we needed,” Klopp told BT Sport after the game. “What can I say? I know he felt his hamstring, that’s not good, he didn’t feel it that much, he said he could have played on but with no sprints any more so that doesn’t help in that position obviously.
“We’ll see, we have to do a scan and then we’ll know more, but that’s not good, of course.”
With Joel Matip already on the treatment table with midfielders Thiago Alcantara and Naby Keita, Joe Gomez is the last central defender standing in the squad, with Klopp forced to turn to a teenager to replace his replacement.
As little as 10 months ago Rhys Williams, who came on for the injured Fabinho, was being sent off for Kidderminster Harriers in a 2-0 defeat to Brackley in the National League North – the sixth tier of English football and two tiers below the Football League even begins.
And now the 19-year-old will be mentally preparing to start for Liverpool in their next Premier League game against West Ham this weekend, with trips to Atalanta and Manchester City to follow.
Matip is a doubt for the game with Klopp admitting he didn’t know whether he would be available for selection but wisely unwilling to rush his return, knowing that if he comes back too quickly he risks further injury.
“He’s a talent,” Klopp reassured after the 2-0 win over Midtjylland. “He plays for England U20s. He now has two Champions League appearances. He did well, pretty exceptional.”
Whether Fabinho’s injury keeps him out for a week or a month is yet to be determined but what it has highlighted is just how paper-thin the squad now is in that position – Fabinho is already a converted central midfielder, after all.
You can expect Liverpool’s recruitment department to already be drawing up a list of players available in January, although don’t expect another £75m splurge like three years before, with a loan the most likely option until they can properly reassess at the end of the season.
In the short term, questions will be raised over, when Klopp deemed it fit to rest Mohamed Salah, Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mane in a game Liverpool were overwhelmingly expected to win, why he did not apply the same logic with one of Fabinho or Gomez.
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The idea would have been to give his new-look spine time to gel together, but it could have instead been a chance to rest one of the two given the number of games they will now be expected to play this season and to give Williams the experience of starting a game.
Liverpool have looked shaky defensively this season, with the 7-2 implosion away to Aston Villa coming before Van Dijk even got injured. Despite back-to-back clean sheets in the Champions League, no team in the Premier League has conceded more goals than the Reds, with 14 against in six games.
That lack of protection for Allison has had an impact on the full backs too, with Trent Alexander-Arnold in particular only seeming to find his creative spark again this morning given the extra defensive work now required of him.
Klopp will just be hoping that his Liverpool side doesn’t represent a Jenga tower too much, where the removal of one key block could see the whole thing come crashing back down to Earth.