Liverpool have exceeded all expectations so far this season but the next four weeks could be the biggest test of their credentials.
Given their struggles last term and the extent of their summer rebuild, the Reds were heavily slept on when it came to talk over the title race in pre-season.
They have lost just once in the Premier League all season – controversially to Tottenham – and are in the semi-finals of the Carabao Cup, beat Arsenal at the Emirates to reach the fourth round of the FA Cup and are the heavy favourites to win the Europa League.
Jurgen Klopp‘s squad though are dropping like flies with Trent Alexander-Arnold joining a lengthy injury list, while star played Mohamed Salah and key component Wataru Endo are away on international duty. If Liverpool can successfully navigate this tricky period, then they might just realise their dreams this season.
Liverpool are set to face their biggest test this season with Mohamed Salah away at the Africa Cup of Nations and Trent Alexander-Arnold out with a knee injury for around three weeks
Jurgen Klopp’s side who are top of the table and in contention for three other trophies will have to find solutions to get through this next month without their two biggest creative forces
Salah’s injury could lead to Harvey Elliott getting a chance to prove he’s not just a ‘super sub’
Conor Bradley impressed off the bench against Arsenal but it will be a big ask to fill in for Alexander-Arnold
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Klopp and his right-hand man Pep Lijnders have come up with solutions to every enforced absence so far this season.
Kostas Tsimikas stepped up when Andy Robertson dislocated his shoulder in October. When Tsimikas broke his collarbone, Joe Gomez showcased his admirable versatility.
Gomez is essentially Liverpool’s back-up right back, centre back and left back, though he can only play in one position.
It’s times like this where Klopp will wish he still had James Milner on the books at Anfield.
Liverpool have found a solution at centre back in Jarrell Quansah who could just save the Reds £50 in the future and now they might have to look at another youngster at right-back.
Conor Bradley performed admirably off the bench in Liverpool’s 2-0 FA Cup victory over Arsenal, while moving Gomez over to the right side and playing Owen Beck at left back is another option.
But there is no replacing Alexander-Arnold who is Liverpool’s main creator.
Despite playing 25 minutes with a tear in the lateral ligament in his left knee against Arsenal, he still unlocked Arsenal’s defence with a cross which was put in the back of his own net by Jakub Kiwior.
However his pain was clear – as evidenced in a video captured by a supporter – and now he is set to be out for around three weeks.
It comes at the worse possible time, with his partner on the right flank Salah also set to be out for a month while he represents Egypt at the Africa Cup of Nations.
Liverpool have handled injuries well this season and been able to find solutions, but Alexander-Arnold’s injury could prove to be one too many for Klopp’s side
Joe Gomez has impressed at left back, centre back and right back this season – but he can only play in one position
Jarrell Quansah has stepped in admirably at centre back and could save Liverpool £50m
Between them, they have created 96 chances in the Premier League this season and provided 224 progressive passes. They are the top two Liverpool players in both of those categories, while the player who is in third – Dominik Szoboszlai – is also currently out with an injury.
Alexander-Arnold’s importance is also highlighted by Liverpool’s improvement since they changed system back in April.
Klopp’s decision to move the 25-year-old into a hybrid role – deep-lying midfielder in possession and defender out of possession – triggered their resurgence.
Before the 2-2 draw with Arsenal on April 9, the Reds had failed to win eight out of 12 matches in the Premier League.
Since then, they have taken more points in the Premier League than any other side with 69 points from 30 games – four more than Man City who have played 29 times.
So the Reds have to swap perhaps the most dangerous right flank in world football with Alexander-Arnold and Salah for what will probably be the unproven Bradley and super sub Harvey Elliott.
It is a huge chance for Bradley who impressed off the bench at the Emirates, but he can’t replicate Alexander-Arnold’s skill-set.
Alexander-Arnold helped Liverpool to victory against Arsenal despite struggling with injury
Liverpool will miss their biggest goal threat in Salah, and biggest creator in Alexander-Arnold
Nor can Elliott or anyone replace Salah, but the Egyptian’s absence gives the England U21 star the chance to prove himself in what is said to be his strongest position on the right side of attack.
He has so often been the player that Klopp looks to make an impact off the bench in close-fought games this season – most notably scoring a 91st minute winner against Crystal Palace – while also making big contributions in games against Everton, Aston Villa, Wolves and Luton Town.
It is his ability to take the ball on the turn and drive into the spaces left by the tiring legs of midfielder opposition which has proven to be beneficial for the Reds in second-halves of games.
Now he will look to be the man to spark and unlock defences in the absences of Salah and Alexander-Arnold.
Liverpool have a lot of players who on their day can make a difference, but none perhaps to the consistency of the pair who often shine down their right flank.
Salah has 27 goal contributions to his name this season with 18 goals and nine assists this season – with a joint-high of 14 goals in the Premier League alongside Erling Haaland.
For all the focus on Darwin Nunez’s erratic finishing, he’s only one behind Salah and Alexander-Arnold on eight assists in all competitions this season with as many goals.
But it’s clear that he is still a raw gem that needs to be polished and there would be no better time to stand up and take charge than this next month for the Uruguayan striker.
Liverpool will hope that the likes of Cody Gakpo and Darwin Nunez step up on the goal front
There have been welcome signs of Luis Diaz getting his mojo back after a recent a lean spell with his emphatic finish against Arsenal killing that game off. Diogo Jota continues to look sharp in front of goal while Cody Gakpo, like Nunez, is another threat who could perhaps contribute more on the goal front.
Given the upcoming winter break, plus just one Premier League game between now and January 31, there could be worse times for their key men to be missing.
Szoboszlai should be fit for the game against Bournemouth on January 21, while Robertson and Tsimikas are both due to be back in training by the end of January – roughly around when Alexander-Arnold will hope to be back in the fold.
Liverpool have overcome many hurdles this season, whether it is going behind in games, being on the wrong end of dodgy VAR calls and dealing with injuries.
But this could be the biggest obstacle yet and one that if they overcome, will offer real concern to the likes of Manchester City and Arsenal going into the final months of the season.