The Reds saw their plans to bring in Naby Keita early dashed by RB Leipzig, which would have solved their Coutinho dilemma almost instantly.
But Klopp, who since the sale has seen Liverpool knocked out of the FA Cup, has stated over and over again that he does not need to replace the Brazilian immediately, and that it’s merely a case of ensuring the players at hand step up in Coutinho’s absence.
So how’s that gone so far? Who has filled in Coutinho’s playmaking void at Anfield? We’re about to take a look…
Who’s Liverpool’s new top creator?
Although Mo Salah is in the midst of a red-hot scoring streak that never seems to end, the Egyptian frequently sets time aside to turn creator.
On top of being the Reds’ top-scorer with 21 goals, and second-highest in Europe’s top five leagues after Harry Kane, Salah has created the most chances (41) for his club. He has also provided his teammates with the most through balls (2) and has the joint-most assists for Liverpool: six, level with Coutinho.
Being a forward, however, Salah must occupy more advanced positions and so cannot be at the root of attacking plays from the midfield, which was what Coutinho was tasked with during the year or so before he left.
On the right wing, Salah – in addition to being a prolific goalscorer – has rather fulfilled the role Coutinho had been given by Klopp during his first season-and-a-half (ish) on the left wing; this entailed cutting in to shoot or cross and generally injecting a dose of creativity into Liverpool’s final-third play.
Can, Lallana and Ox to vy for Liverpool’s ‘link-man’ role?
Emre Can has created more chances than any Liverpool player in the league since Coutinho left (9) though, as wingers turned midfielders, Lallana and Oxlade-Chamberlain match the Brazilian’s profile more closely.
The German has created 23 chances in the league so far, managing three assists – the most recent coming against Huddersfield in the 3-0 win.
The 24-year-old’s biggest problem, however, is his lack of consistency. He produced a masterclass performance in the 4-3 victory over Manchester City, where he recorded an 88% pass accuracy, two interceptions and three blocks, but went missing during the draw to Spurs and the loss to Swansea. Can hasn’t excelled enough creatively to truly fill the central midfield role, bagging just eight assists in his last two seasons at Anfield.
There is also the question of how much game-time it is worth investing in Can when he, like Coutinho, will himself need replacing should he depart as a free agent when his contract expires this summer.
Lallana is the obvious choice to step up in the wake of Coutinho’s absence but the midfielder has missed the majority of the campaign due to a hamstring injury, making just eight appearances all season in the league.
The Englishman is best at pressing and creating, but not so much when it comes to dictating play the way his former No.10 teammate did. Lallana is a quality player in that he is great on the turn, at linking up play and propelling the team forward, but fitness-wise can he be relied upon?
Here’s where the initially eyebrow-raising purchase of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain from Arsenal could pay off. Equally the Southampton academy product is not on Coutinho’s level, but he has played in every single league game for Liverpool since making his top-flight debut for the club and, now there’s a vacancy in his preferred central-midfield position, must bring his average statistical output to the level of Lallana or as close to Coutinho’s as possible.
What about Naby Keita?
Keita would have stripped Klopp of all Coutinho cares had he joined the Reds in January.
The Guinea international team captain combines the attributes of the very best of Liverpool’s midfield quality: a true box-to-box midfielder capable of playing defensively, keeping possession as well as spearheading the attack with his dribbling or penchant for vertical passes straight through the opposing team’s lines.
He can fill the Georginio Wijnaldum role – albeit with a bit more creativity, Klopp would hope – as well as the Lallana-Coutinho role.
There is a reason Leipzig have been so determined to keep Keita until the summer as they wish to claim a Champions League spot next season. He has created 23 chances this season in the Bundesliga, scoring three goals and providing two assists. He has completed the second-most take-ons for Leipzig (92), the second-most tackles (43) and the most through balls (10). He is a Klopp player all around, able to both press and intercept as well as drive play forward.
The Guinean international would also be much more defensively competent than Liverpool’s existing midfield. The Leipzig star has an excellent reading of the game and positions himself accordingly to break up opposition play and make interceptions, which should help the Reds better control matches.
But there is much to play for before Keita joins. His qualities underline the dilemma Klopp has with Coutinho gone, surrounded by half-promises of talent from the likes of the injury-stricken Lallana, the potentially exit-bound Can or the developing Oxlade-Chamberlain.
His answer was to wait for Keita, now one of the aforementioned trio must vindicate him while making use of the opportunity their manager’s decision has provided them.