Sadio Mane injury forces Jurgen Klopp into finding right Liverpool mix
Liverpool's task in putting a disappointing September behind them got harder when it was announced Sadio Mane would miss six weeks' action with a hamstring injury suffered on international duty.
Focus inevitably fell on the upcoming "difficult" games he'll miss and there are some real challenges against Manchester United, Tottenham and Chelsea in the Premier League and Sevilla in the Champions League.
For the first of those matches on Saturday, Jurgen Klopp must also hope his Brazilian pair Philippe Coutinho and Roberto Firmino return from South America in good shape to face United.
Fans recall the last time Liverpool played after an international break; the ignominious 5-0 defeat at Manchester City. Mane was sent off, which exacerbated the Reds' usual problems whenever players return from international duty.
If anyone's in the mood to clutch straws, Mane's absence gives Klopp a chance to put his ideas about squad-building to the test.
Klopp has been criticised for focussing on midfield and attack rather than buying much-needed defenders. His predicament hands a previously peripheral figure like Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain a chance to show what he can do.
Daniel Sturridge may also get a chance to prove regular selection is more advantageous to his efficiency than the current routine of one game in, two games out. That's if his fitness can hold out, and few would expect that.
Klopp has claimed flexibility for his forward options, and he's right to an extent. Firmino does often move out to Mane's left-wing position, but rarely with satisfactory results.
Coutinho has played there too, yet with recent success in a traditional midfield role -- he's scored in Liverpool's last three games -- Klopp may be reluctant to move him.
One option is for Mohammed Salah to go left and Oxlade-Chamberlain to play in a more comfortable right-wing role. That also risks disrupting one of Liverpool's few successful players this season. Any way he chooses, Klopp will be gambling.
However he tries to fix it, the German knows the loss of Mane is a crucial blow to his chances of restoring order and getting Liverpool's season back on track.
The Senegal forward missed a lot of football last season too. A month away at the African Nations Cup almost derailed Liverpool's season entirely.
His next absence came after injury in the Merseyside derby last April. Klopp's remaining squad managed to grind its way to fourth place in the Premier League.
They, and also Arsenal in fairness, took advantage of several opponents having little or nothing to fight for at the end of their season. This injury comes far too early to expect anything similar.
The news triggered the usual social media complaints about international football -- understandable when it seems to affect your club's fortunes so often.
Expecting players not to want glory for country as well as club is futile in the extreme. Perhaps there is a case for reducing the amount of games footballers face at every level, but given the sport is so indebted to television and sponsorship that idea hits a brick wall quickly. Football clubs rarely turn down money, no matter the inconvenience.
It also needs reiterating that the reasons for Liverpool seeming to suffer more than most may lie closer to home than fans care to admit.
The Klopp style has been debated so often it's almost boring now. A quick glance at his record proves there's more to him than simply winding up players like clockwork mice and sending them scurrying around for 90 minutes.
There's no point denying he depends a lot on dynamism and energy, though. When his team are fit and firing, there are few more exciting sights. When it begins to break down and it becomes obvious players can't operate at that level for an entire season, pessimism begins to stir.
Adopting a more pragmatic, thoughtful approach could take months, maybe years to implement. As with the team's defensive eccentricities, fans just have to accept Klopp's Liverpool as it is and cross their fingers.
Discontent always emerges after an international injury, but telling that to Salah isn't worthwhile. Taking Egypt to their first World Cup since 1990 or an equaliser against Burnley? He would take little time in deciding which the bigger achievement was.
In all such arguments it's up to clubs to provide the challenges, excitement and success which top footballers crave. Even Steven Gerrard, often voted No.1 in polls for Liverpool's greatest modern player, desperately sought wins and success in 114 appearances for England, too. It's the mark of a truly great player to want both.
That means managing fitness and rotation better, and it's clear Liverpool have been poor at doing so -- since well before Klopp arrived at Anfield, in fact.
Being forced to work without integral players like Mane, Coutinho and Lallana for such long spells ties Klopp's hands. A solution for such regular absences is in his own best interest.
Steven Kelly is one of ESPN FC's Liverpool bloggers. Follow him on Twitter @SteKelly198586.