Liverpool made it 5 wins out of 5 to maintain their perfect start to the season.
Against a sloppy Tottenham, Liverpool were dominant and could’ve won the game by a larger margin had it not been for poor finishing. At the heartbeat of Liverpool’s attack was a certain Roberto Firmino. Running the channels and pulling markers away from his teammates, the Brazilian was simply brilliant. His goal from close range turned out to be the winner, and was a good reward for his tireless display.
However, the day ended on a sour note for Firmino. While tussling for the ball, he was gouged in the eye by Jan Vertonghen’s flailing hand. That resulted in his immediate substitution, with the Brazilian seeking medical attention after the game.
In a statement released by the club, it was revealed that “a hospital examination confirmed an abrasion of the eye, but there will be no lasting damage”. However, the club also stated that “the issue will be monitored and treated by Liverpool’s medical staff at Melwood before any decision is made on whether Firmino will be able to figure in Tuesday evening’s Champions League encounter with Paris Saint-Germain at Anfield”.
Though the Reds were quick to add that “at this stage, the No.9 has not been ruled out”, there is still a possibility of Firmino missing the PSG game. With Liverpool’s maiden European game for the season fast approaching, let us take a look at how Liverpool could cope in the absence of their star forward.
Going For Youth
One of Klopp’s current options is to field the young Solanke as his leading striker. Known for his hold up play, the England U21 could partly fulfil the role Firmino does on a regular basis. This would allow the likes of Mane and Salah to cut infield, therefore maintaining Liverpool’s usual modus operandi.
The question is: can he execute it right?
After all, this a player who has played a paltry 726 minutes of competitive football last season. Out of that game time, he only has 1 goal to show for, and that only came in the Reds last league game. And on the occasions he did start, the young Englishman failed to impress. It’s sink or swim for Solanke if he was to be thrown into the deep end against PSG. Klopp, known for managing youth, would probably steer well away from this option, which is where Daniel Sturridge comes into the picture.
Stick To The Experienced Heads
On the back of a strong preseason, Sturridge looks to have put his injury woes behind him. At 29 years of age, the Englishman is one of the senior figures in the squad. Having played in the Europa League in 2015/16 as well as a bit part role in last season’s Champions League, he has enough European experience. Calling upon him would represent a safe option for Klopp.
In addition, what he brings to the team is something entirely different to that of Solanke. While the Sturridge of old is known for his pace, he now instead makes those key passes to free Liverpool’s other attackers. His preseason displays is testament to that transformation. With him feeding Salah and Mane, Liverpool will have a steady creator in chief. Besides creating, Sturridge is still a goal threat himself, represented by his goal seconds after coming on as a substitute against West Ham. Sturridge in a hybrid No. 9/10 role would definitely be an intriguing prospect.
However, there’ll be people questioning if his play style fits Klopp’s geggenpressing. After all, Sturridge isn’t known for his off the ball work. With Klopp’s forwards renowned for their high pressing, Sturridge would therefore be a poor fit. With that being a flaw in this option, what other solutions can Klopp turn to?
Switch In Formation
If Klopp isn’t willing to employ his other forward options, perhaps a switch in formation would be the answer. Playing a 4-4-2 diamond would be a sensible choice, given that Liverpool had played in such a formation last season, albeit for a short period of time. Summer recruit Shaqiri would be the player drafted in to make this set up work. While primarily a right winger, the Swiss international has played before as an attacking midfielder in his time at Bayern Munich.
Ideally, Shaqiri would have Milner and Keita supporting him, with Wijnaldum anchoring the midfield. That way, the former Stoke City man can have the license to roam forward. With him at the tip of the diamond, Liverpool will have a goal threat from midfield while at the same time have the added security of an extra man in midfield.
So while it’s true Firmino is an important player to Liverpool, it isn’t true that Liverpool can’t play without him. The above options, though not perfect, is prove of it. Of course, the easiest way would be that Firmino is fit for the game. So let us wish that our No. 9 recovers in time for Tuesday’s big game.