Klopp's fresh hell! Diaz injury the last thing Liverpool need as Reds' season continues to unravel
If Jurgen Klopp hoped Sunday’s trip to Arsenal might be the game to kickstart Liverpool’s season, he could hardly have been more wrong. Defeat at the Emirates, narrow and painful but probably deserved, put paid to any lingering hopes the Reds might have had of mounting a title challenge this season. Their battle now is for a top-four spot, and even that looks an uphill one at present.
Even more so given the loss of yet another key player to injury. Luis Diaz won’t be seen until after the World Cup, having damaged knee ligaments during the first half in north London. No wonder Klopp wore a look of thunder as he worked his way through his post-match interviews.
Not him. Not now.
The Colombian has been one of the few Liverpool players to have performed at anything close to their top level this season, and his absence will be keenly felt with 10 games to be played across the next 31 days, starting at Rangers in the Champions League on Wednesday.
For starters, it will surely mean another tactical reshuffle. Klopp has, in the Reds’ last two games, opted for a 4-4-2/4-2-4 system, getting four attacking players on the field in a bid to force his side back onto the front foot.
But with no Diaz, he has no natural left-sided option for that system. Diogo Jota is likeliest to fill in, but most probably in a return to 4-3-3, which would at least enable Klopp to keep one of his main forwards as a game-changing option from the bench.
Getting some form into those who remain would be handy. Roberto Firmino is scoring goals, although his all-round contribution in games has definitely declined, and Darwin Nunez has shown encouragement as a No.9 in his last two outings, but Jota has not scored in his last 19 Liverpool appearances and Salah has only nine goals in his last 32, with just six coming from open play.
The Egyptian is still working hard and still creating danger, but he was substituted with more than 20 minutes to play at Arsenal, a sign of the times, if ever there was one.
It is Diaz who, for the most part, has delivered the fight and intensity Klopp demands from his players this season. With four goals and three assists, including one for Nunez on Sunday, he has been making a difference in a struggling team. Without him, who knows where Liverpool would be?
Without him they are, though. They will be without him against Rangers and Manchester City this week, against West Ham and Nottingham Forest next. Ajax, Leeds, Napoli, Tottenham and Southampton all lie in wait. Right now, no game looks easy, even the Carabao Cup clash with Derby County next month.
Klopp has already admitted that Liverpool are not in the title race, but they can ill-afford to lose more ground to Tottenham, Chelsea or Manchester United in the race for the top four. He’d be delighted, too, if they could get themselves out of their Champions League group ahead of the last matchday, when Serie A leaders Napoli head to Anfield.
The suspicion, at the moment, is that even the manager doesn’t know exactly how to fix Liverpool. He knows what they’re doing wrong - too many things to list, if we’re being truthful - but the solutions are far less obvious. The change in shape worked, to some extent, but no plan is infallible when top-class players are making such basic errors on such a regular basis.
And so they plough on, the only thing they can do. Head down, work hard and hope the switch flicks. Hope that Salah finds his shooting boots, that Nunez goes on a goalscoring run, that Virgil van Dijk and Fabinho remember who they are, and that Andy Robertson returns reinvigorated after his injury lay-off.
Fingers crossed, too, that Trent Alexander-Arnold’s ankle problem is less serious than it looked on Sunday. The defender is expected to miss a fortnight, along with Joel Matip, who has a calf injury.
No such luck with Diaz, alas. Liverpool won’t be seeing him on the field until Boxing Day at the earliest.
The latest hammer blow, in a season which has - so far - been full of them.