Liverpool’s 3-0 win over Leeds United on Sunday was sadly overshadowed by the horrible injury to Harvey Elliott. The 18-year-old midfielder was stretchered off following a tackle by Pascal Struijk, with his Liverpool team-mates clearly distressed by what they saw at Elland Road.
As such, the victory, which moved Jurgen Klopp’s side into third place on 10 points, level with leaders Manchester United and Chelsea, was secondary in many fans’ thoughts.
Nevertheless it was another strong performance from the Reds, who won thanks to goals from Mohamed Salah, Fabinho and Sadio Mane.
Liverpool looked strong at the back, with Virgil van Dijk and Joel Matip continuing their partnership, organised in midfield thanks to Fabinho and the impressive Thiago, while their attack clicked as usual.
Klopp would have been delighted, in particular, with his midfield, given the way Fabinho and Thiago marshalled things and ended the evening with a goal and assist between them; Liverpool remain unbeaten in the 11 matches where the duo have started alongside each other.
Yet Elliott’s serious injury meant that thought was far from the front of his mind at the full-time whistle.
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The match against Leeds on Sunday was his third successive start in the Premier League, but it was cruelly cut short by Struijk’s mistimed challenge.
Elliott had shown the inventiveness, quick feet and dribbling ability which made him the ideal player for Liverpool’s three-man midfield.
With Gini Wijnaldum now long gone, Klopp needs a midfielder to step up and show themselves capable of playing the more progressive, box-to-box role alongside the more defensive-minded Fabinho, Thiago or Jordan Henderson.
It remains to be seen how the German manager solves this problem, but a clue could lie in the substitutes he used on Sunday.
While it was Henderson who replaced Elliott, it could well be the other two replacements used who are in contention for his starting place in the upcoming matches against AC Milan in the Champions League on Wednesday and Crystal Palace in the league next weekend.
Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain was used as a substitute for Diogo Jota, while Naby Keita came on in injury-time for Thiago, as Curtis Jones and James Milner stayed put on the bench.
Both Oxlade-Chamberlain and Keita have the capabilities to do it, yet neither have consistently performed it for Klopp at Liverpool.
Oxlade-Chamberlain knows all about the struggles Elliott may well have to go through in the coming weeks and months, given his career has been blighted by a cruciate ligament injury and other knee problems.
The 28-year-old has only once played more than 1,500 minutes in the Premier League in his entire career, but having started this campaign injury-free, Liverpool could really benefit from his continued availability this season.
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Keita’s Liverpool career has followed a similar pattern, with injuries limiting his involvement and his sporadic appearances not living up to his £54million transfer fee from RB Leipzig.
When he has been fit, Keita has found it difficult to break into Klopp’s side, with players like Wijnaldum blocking his path.
With Liverpool’s options dwindling in central midfield, he will arguably not get a better chance to hold down a place.
In conjunction with Liverpool’s owners Fenway Sports Group and the club’s hierarchy, Klopp decided not to replace Wijnaldum in the summer transfer window.
Now, with his young starlet sidelined, Klopp desperately needs his more established midfielders to step in from the cold, play to their full potential and vindicate his decision.