LONDON: Liverpool’s fifth home win in six games, which kept them within sight of Premier leaders Chelsea, came at a cost. They lost Brazilian playmaker Phillippe Coutinho after only 33 minutes with a serious-looking ankle injury.
The Brazilian, outstanding in Liverpool’s high-tempo rise under Jürgen Klopp this season, left Anfield on crutches to undergo a scan to determine the extent of an injury suffered when he was caught accidentally by the Sunderland midfielder Didier Ndong. It may be several days before Liverpool have an accurate diagnosis.
Coutinho, who has been in superb form with five league goals and six assists, signalled immediately to the bench. He was in obvious distress as he was carried off with his right leg in a protective brace.
Klopp said: “We will have to wait for a scan. In the first moment it was very painful but when he was in the dressing-room at half-time he said it felt better. I have no idea what it is but I am quite an optimistic guy.”
However Martin Keown, the ex-England and Arsenal defender, was less hopeful. Now a BBC analyst, he said: “It didn’t look good. He was writhing in agony and waved at the bench straight away. It looks a really bad injury.”
A long absence for Klopp’s most creative player would represent a major setback for Liverpool’s Premier League challenge. They have seven matches remaining this year, before the transfer window offers the option of squad strengthening.
Liverpool were already without the injured Daniel Sturridge and Adam Lallana. Sturridge was absent with a calf problem and, though Lallana could return from a groin injury at Bournemouth next weekend, Roberto Firmino was also injured against David Moyes’s side when he suffered a kick to a calf.
Firmino was not the only Bundesliga exile to endure a mixed afternoon: Emre Can worked as hard as ever but was frustrated to see one shot skim narrowly wide; goalkeeper Loris Karius made brave saves from Steven Pienaar and Duncan Watmore but suffered an odd moment’s lack of concentration when he sliced a goalkick out for a corner.
Lallana, in his injury absence, has also become the subject of speculation that Paris Saint-Germain will offer £40m in January. Klopp would not want to lose the in-form England winger but the cash-in-hand would help him in the transfer market if he needs a ‘play-alike’ deputy for Coutinho – never mind covering the African Nations Cup absence of Sadio Mane.
Happily at least Liverpool could enjoy victory over Sunderland with two late goals. First Divock Origi, Coutinho’s substitute, struck his first Premier goal of the season before James Milner added a stoppage-time second from a penalty.
Klopp, who was involved in several exchanges with the Sunderland bench, including one after Firmino’s injury, said: “I’ve never played a team so defensive. Victor Anichebe was mostly at left-back but we’ve learned we can be patient, not get frustrated and beat teams like this.
“We’ve come a long way but we’ve a long way to go.”