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Liverpool suffer whack in the footballing funny bone as Midtjylland win throws up more questions

Liverpool may have moved to the top of Group D with a 2-0 win over Midtjylland in the Champions League, but this victory only posed more questions for the months ahead.

It was with a sense of mild misjudgement and a sense of misadventure that Liverpool lurched into Tuesday night’s Champions League game, against Midtjylland at Anfield.

A 10,000th competitive goal scored by the club, but a disjointed and laboured performance overall, with victory only assured after a mad passage of play right at the end.

The visitors spurned a golden opportunity to equalise before Liverpool thundered down towards the Kop to win a stomach-settling penalty, which was coolly converted by Mohamed Salah.

Fabinho’s injury obviously shades everything else that occurred. Sharp intake of breath taken, but I think we all likely realised straight away that this was something that would not only end his evening, but probably put him out until the other side of the next international break too.

You can just tell by the reaction of the player.

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Tuesday, October 27, 2020: Liverpool's manager Jürgen Klopp during the UEFA Champions League Group D match between Liverpool FC and FC Midtjylland at Anfield. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

If the opening chords of this season were written by a Gallagher brother, then the lyrics would have read, Virgil van Dijk out for the rest of the season, Fabinho injured, Joe Gomez struggling for form, Joel Matip out too, only the intermittent use of Thiago, and seven goals shipped at Villa Park.

All of this played out to a plagiarised ELO electronic guitar riff. Something that sounds just like every track on the eminently lamentable Be Here Now, basically.

Tuesday night was the footballing version of hitting your funny bone. A totally forgettable performance, it was all a little bit third round of the League Cup at home to Port Vale.

The mind ticks during games like these, and no matter how positive your outlook might be, if you were in attendance when Phil Jevons scored a screamer of a last-minute winner for Grimsby Town, in a League Cup tie during the days of Gerard Houllier, then you’ll know that despite how good you think you might be, you are still as vulnerable as anybody else when a game drifts toward its final few minutes when nursing only a one-goal advantage.

It was all a bit unnecessary. Salah, Sadio Mane and Bobby Firmino rotated out, Divock Origi, Takumi Minamino and Xherdan Shaqiri brought in, plus a midfield duo of Jordan Henderson and James Milner.

This was the type of heavily altered lineup you send out for the fifth and sixth group games, when you’ve already won the first four. Not for the second one up, when a double-header against a talented Atalanta side lays in wait beyond.

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Tuesday, October 27, 2020: Liverpool's James Milner (R) grapples with FC Midtjylland's Pione Sisto during the UEFA Champions League Group D match between Liverpool FC and FC Midtjylland at Anfield. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

Mistakes are there to be made, however, and Jurgen Klopp is not immune. He’ll recognise his approach wasn’t the right one, though.

Midtjylland hustled and harried us, without creating too many big chances. That one towards the end was the closest they came, and in a way, we can be relieved that the game was played behind closed doors.

I can well imagine that one going in had there been a few thousand fanatical Danes stood in the lower Anfield Road section, vociferously willing them on.

Expected to win, we won. We got away with it though, and onwards we roll.

Every game of football offers us answers to vaguely considered questions. In this one, the answers we ‘discovered’ were that Henderson and Milner playing together should be a thing of the past now, that Origi isn’t going to start too many more games in a Liverpool shirt, Minamino is better when surrounded by any two of Salah, Mane and Firmino, and that Rhys Williams is going to be a very good footballer.

I also feel that that tracksuit top they wear prior to kickoff would look really smart, if the white band was higher up across the chest.

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Tuesday, October 27, 2020: Liverpool's substitute Rhys Williams during the UEFA Champions League Group D match between Liverpool FC and FC Midtjylland at Anfield. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

Conversely, every game of football throws up new questions. On this occasion, how long will Fabinho be out and how do we deal with his expected absence?

Gomez is there, but can we rely on Matip returning on Saturday? Even if Matip is deemed fit to play, can he last the full game? Do we throw Williams in? It would be a monumental ask to call on him to face West Ham, quickly followed by Atalanta and then Man City.

As Klopp said last night, Williams has more Champions League appearances to his name than he does in the Premier League. Ask him to take on this run of games, and by the end of them he will either be a man or we will have broken his soul.

It was suggested last night that Klopp will be enjoying the challenge of finding solutions to the problems posed by the injuries of Van Dijk and Fabinho.

I kind of get the thinking behind that, as it’s all part of football management, and I’m sure that Klopp woke up this morning wondering if it would be outlandish to ask Milner to play centre-back on Saturday – but at the same time, I’m sure he would enjoy it much more if Van Dijk and Fabinho weren’t missing at all.

I suggested last weekend that Midtjylland represented the first of a four-game span during which the direction of our winter would be heavily influenced.

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Tuesday, October 27, 2020: Liverpool's Mohamed Salah (R) celebrates with team-mate Xherdan Shaqiri after scoring the second goal during the UEFA Champions League Group D match between Liverpool FC and FC Midtjylland at Anfield. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

The loss of Fabinho now intensifies that scenario. An in-form West Ham come to Anfield, a trip to Italy is to be undertaken, and then we have our visit to Eastlands.

Three defined battles, where weaknesses will be ruthlessly exposed by our opponents. The second and third of those three games will be decided upon by which team reveals the fewest weaknesses.

Just when our first true cluster stress-test arrives, we are starting to feel a bit depleted.

In the face of this, I’m hoping the 4-2-3-1 is mothballed for a while, as familiarity will be a crucial element at a time when we will be making do and mending in one of the most important areas of the pitch.

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