Forced off the field just after the half-hour mark at Anfield, following a strong challenge from Didier Ndong, Coutinho could face weeks, or months, on the sidelines.
The 24-year-old left the stadium on crutches, wearing a protective boot on his right foot, with the club confirming that the problem was with his ankle.
While, speaking after the game, Klopp said “pain gets better,” stressing that he was optimistic about Coutinho making a swift recovery, the likelihood is that Liverpool’s No. 10 will be unavailable for a crucial period.
The Reds take on Bournemouth, West Ham, Middlesbrough, Everton, Stoke and Man City in December, and though Klopp is unable to draft in a replacement until January, this should highlight a priority in the new year.
Coutinho’s injury should prompt Klopp to follow through with his plans and sign another winger in the winter transfer window.
Sunderland‘s approach towards Coutinho served as the perfect testimony to the midfielder’s form this season, with the Brazilian elevated to the upper bracket with his performances in 2016.
At Anfield, David Moyes tasked on-loan utility man Jason Denayer with a man-marking duty, with the Belgian tracking Coutinho around the pitch constantly.
Whether Liverpool were on the attack or not, Denayer followed Coutinho’s every move, even to the touchline during an early break in play.
Southampton manager Claude Puel took a similar approach the previous weekend, with Oriol Romeu performing a hatchet job on the playmaker, making his presence felt with little kicks and trips throughout.
This has proved something of a necessary course of action for sides opting for the ultra defensive against Klopp’s in-form Reds: cutting off the head of the snake.
With six goals and six assists in all competitions, Coutinho is level as Liverpool’s most effective player in front of goal this season, shining in a variety of roles including out wide and deeper in midfield.
He is in the Premier League‘s top five (500+ minutes) in terms of chances created per 90 minutes (3.1), and of those players, only Chelsea‘s Willian (1.8) has averaged more successful tackles per 90 than the tenacious midfielder (1.5); his role is crucial to Klopp’s system.
“The manager is comfortable with me doing it and that’s given me the confidence to go and play.”
Now, however, Liverpool will be required to perform without the confident Coutinho, who adds to a growing list of absentees as 2016 nears its conclusion.
Coutinho, Firmino and Lallana have started together in six of Liverpool’s nine Premier League victories so far this season, which underlines their key status within Klopp’s 4-3-3.
Furthermore, while Sturridge has taken up a peripheral role this season due to Firmino’s excellent form, the 27-year-old remains one of the Reds’ best players, and an invaluable game-changer.
Danny Ings (knee) has been ruled out for the rest of the season, while Sadio Mane is set to depart for Gabon in January to take part in the Africa Cup of Nations with Senegal, with Klopp’s options thinning.
Being without any two, or even three, of Lallana, Coutinho, Mane, Firmino and Sturridge would be a quandary for Klopp, despite the enhanced quality throughout his squad this season.
That Klopp named Ovie Ejaria (19) and Ben Woodburn (17) on his substitutes’ bench against the Black Cats, with the latter making his debut for the club in stoppage time, points towards the lack of players at his disposal at present.
Victory over Sunderland maintained Liverpool’s unbeaten run, having not suffered defeat in the last 14 games in all competitions, and if Klopp wishes to keep up their fight at the top end of the Premier League, a January reinforcement would be wise.
Klopp’s January Options
That Origi replaced Coutinho at Anfield and scored the opening goal to flatten Sunderland‘s robust defence provided an encouraging narrative.
To some extent, Origi’s emergence can aid Liverpool as the likes of Coutinho, Lallana and Sturridge pick up injuries, and Klopp certainly believes this can be the case, telling reporters after the game that “timing is very important and now he’s ready again.”
But with Klopp already drawing up a list of potential attacking targets for the January transfer window following Ings’ injury, it seems likely Coutinho’s absence would force him into action.
Spartak Moscow’s Quincy Promes, FC Rostov’s Sardar Azmoun, Bayer Leverkusen’s Julian Brandt and Dinamo Zagreb’s Ante Coric have been heavily linked with the Reds in recent weeks, and Promes and Brandt would be excellent additions in particular.
Signing another winger would allow Klopp to navigate injury to Coutinho and Mane’s AFCON duty, while, in the long term, presenting another option when the former is marked out of the game, as is likely to become an increasingly common tactic.
Klopp was believed to be battling temptation to dip into the market unless further injury struck, but now Coutinho faces a spell on the sidelines, a winter move should be on the cards.