Liverpool midfielder Wataru Endo admitted it was difficult to leave Merseyside for the Asian Cup just when he had started to really find his form.
The Japan captain, a £16million signing from Stuttgart, started the last six matches as he deputised for the injured Alexis Mac Allister and that regular rhythm undoubtedly helped the 30-year-old find his feet after a tough introduction to English football.
But the New Year’s Day win over Newcastle – that extended Liverpool’s lead at the top of the Premier League table to three points – was Endo’s last game for a month as he flies out to Qatar to begin preparations for the tournament which begins next Friday.
Unlike Mohamed Salah, who is now away with Egypt at the African Nations Cup, when he returns, Endo will have lost his place to Mac Allister, who has been first choice in the holding role all season, and will have lost the momentum he built up.
“Of course I want to stay here but as a national team player it is important for me as I am captain. I am now focused on the national team and just doing my best,” said Endo.
“I want to have good results at the Asian Cup, but that’ll mean I have to stay longer in Qatar.
“But Macca has come back now, so I can just stay focused on the national team. I’m sure we (Liverpool) will play well, 100 percent.
“I want to come back with the Asian Cup title. I’m confident Liverpool can do well in the absence of me and Mo.”
However, Mac Allister’s injury and a heavy December workload meant manager Jurgen Klopp had little option but to play him every week and that made a significant difference.
“It has been the toughest Christmas and New Year in my life but to play football is amazing so I’ve enjoyed it also,” Endo added.
“It’s a very tough schedule but I needed to keep playing. Playing the games is the most important way for me to improve.
“We have so many injured players. I was thinking, I am a very important player on the pitch so I needed to show why I came here.
“I think the team played well and I also played better than before and we are now top of the table so I feel I did my job. I feel like I’ve got to grips more with playing in England.
“Confidence is a big thing also. The manager has shown a lot of faith in me. The other players know me better now as well, that’s also important for me to play better.”
Liverpool have recalled 20-year-old James Balagizi from his loan spell at Wigan, where he made just seven appearances – only three of which were in League One.