Nathaniel Clyne injury adds pressure on Liverpool defence
With Liverpool by the Philippe Coutinho saga, the announcements of the squads for both Premier League and Champions League duties went almost without comment.
Some inclusions were odd. Adam Bogdan and Lazar Markovic, long since thought to have played their last games for Liverpool, were both in the domestic squad.
Some omissions were downright peculiar -- surely Danny Ings could have played a small role in Europe -- but the major talking point was the absence of Nathaniel Clyne.
He'd already been listed for the Premier League but it was subsequently announced his recovery from a back injury was going to take a lot longer than previously thought.
Is it a little suspicious this was revealed a few days after the transfer window closed? Liverpool had already been hectored by fans about the lack of defensive depth -- in marked contrast to how strong they look going forward. Perhaps the club just felt they could do without all that additional noise during the final week of the window.
Any idea Joe Gomez and Ragnar Klavan were strong enough to cover for Joel Matip and Dejan Lovren was already being questioned. Now Gomez has to occasionally fill in for Trent Alexander-Arnold at right back, too? Both are talented but fairly inexperienced. There's always Jon Flanagan, of course.
Had Clyne's fitness really deteriorated so badly in the days between being listed in one squad and omitted from another? It seems far-fetched, and not a little cynical.
Fans will often try and leap to Liverpool's defence. One interesting stat emerged: the Reds have only lost one game where Matip and Lovren played together in central defence.
It was also mentioned this partnership appears less than 50 percent of the time, which raises the crucial question whether Liverpool's lack of defensive depth wasn't going to hamper them again in the long run.
Matip practically vanished during Liverpool's worst month in recent times, January 2017 seeing five defeats and the derailment of any chance of a trophy.
If Jurgen Klopp's answer to this defensive conundrum is merely to cross his fingers and hope there are no further injuries, Clyne's prolonged absence has put a dent in that plan already -- with four months still to go before the manager can do anything to fix it.
Klopp's general attitude to this aspect of management resembles a tightrope walker with no safety net. It's exciting, but bad for the nerves and dangerous.
It's hard to deny the defensive impact of having a fast and fearless attack, though. Against Arsenal in their last game the Reds got their second, third and fourth goals from a starting point within their own area.
The implication is obvious. Come at Liverpool if you want, in numbers preferably, but lose possession and the consequences may be severe.
The problem with that policy comes on days when Liverpool's forwards can't get the job done. Against Watford on day one, for example. Although Liverpool had scored three times, only one goal separated the teams late on.
The home side simply used free kicks and corners to heap pressure on a Reds back line which cracked all too easily. This was nearly repeated by Hoffenheim in the next match.
Such fragility can only increase if any more defenders get injured between now and Jan. 1. This is before anybody queries whether Alberto Moreno really has miraculously transformed into a dependable left-back all of a sudden.
Under Klopp, Liverpool's defensive record is almost evenly spread between good, so-so and poor: 37 clean sheets, 37 games with one goal conceded and 30 with two goals or more conceded.
Their worst game was away to Bournemouth last season, losing 4-3 with both Lucas and James Milner in defence and Loris Karius in goal sharing blame for a late collapse. The odds on such a makeshift backline being seen again must be even smaller now.
A lack of squad strengthening can have consequences, especially with the axiom "if something can go wrong, it probably will."
Fans will recall Rafa Benitez attempting to sign Manchester United's Gabriel Heinze as a centre-half in the summer of 2007. United naturally objected and the whole thing went to a tribunal which Liverpool lost.
All eggs placed in one basket, Benitez had no time to buy another centre-half. Sure enough, Daniel Agger was soon declared unfit for months and Liverpool had to play a long time with just Sami Hyypia and Jamie Carragher available in central defence.
Martin Skrtel was signed in January 2008, Agger returned and Liverpool went on to finish fourth and reach the Champions League semifinals. That would be more than satisfactory in 2018, but can it really happen again?
This will be a long four months for Liverpool's backline. The most realistic hope isn't that they'll cope with whatever's thrown at them but that the rest of the side can score enough to make such deficiencies academic.
Steven Kelly is one of ESPN FC's Liverpool bloggers. Follow him on Twitter @SteKelly198586.