One month. Eight games. One Champions League game. Qualification for the last 16. History. Anfield. European nights. Seven Premier League games. Five rivals at the top. One surprisingly surprise package. One bitter but historically friendly local rival. One Merseyside derby. Four Champions League slots. Momentum. All this will be navigated without the composed Joël Matip after a thigh injury he has been battling with has kept him out for one month.
Matip is clearly the most composed player in Liverpool's defensive spine let alone the best centre back in the squad. That may not be the highest accolade considering those who would rival him as the top pick in those categories, but he is ostensibly a player that makes Liverpool better. Jordan Henderson, captain and first-choice number six, lacks the awareness or confidence that Matip possesses. Emre Can also lacks the consistent ability to retain the ball that Matip provides. This is not welcome news in the slightest.
Much has been made of Liverpool's fine record when Matip and the unreliable Dejan Lovren are paired together. To Lovren's credit, there have been games this season where he has been better than Matip. However, there have also been concerning displays that underline Lovren's unsuitability as a starting centre back to help Liverpool improve in the years ahead. A growing problem is Matip and Lovren's relationship with injuries; their increasing susceptibility to injuries make both first-choice centre backs potential unidentified sharp objects in defensive stability's misshapen paw.
Ragnar Klavan is willing yet inadequate, Joe Gomez is talented yet inexperienced and a starter at right back, and the January transfer window is just under a month away. Virgil van Dijk transfer rumours will understandably and inevitably increase in number as the month wears on. Jürgen Klopp may find the festive schedule quite unforgiving in Matip's absence.
A knock for Lovren and nervousness from Klavan would leave Liverpool utterly at the mercy of the oft-capricious Football Gods. Do not think this is not some far-fetched and distant scenario; this is a reality that Licarpool may have to face. There is simply not enough defensive depth at the accommodating core of Liverpool's defence. Van Dijk or whatever defender of satisfactory quality for the needs of team must be signed. Matip helps Liverpool in ways that cannot be replicated—especially in terms of possession and defensive intelligence—by the other options available to the manager. This inability among senior options is a considerable concern, and it could be argued that Gomez is probably the best option in terms of ability on the ball. However, is this the time to test Gomez at centre half?
A thigh injury has robbed Liverpool of a key player, but it may have also provided an opportunity. History and quality both suggest that this chance will not be taken. Nonetheless, the possibility to make a genuine contribution may exist for a defender sitting on the sidelines.
Joe Gomez and Trent Alexander-Arnold, anyone?