With Philippe Coutinho gone, much of the burden falls to Adam Lallana
As Liverpool's attempts at squad strengthening continue in the wake of their controversial sale of Philippe Coutinho, the teammates the Brazilian left behind are preparing for Sunday's eagerly awaited clash with league leaders Manchester City at Anfield. The loss of Coutinho, while significant, should not really harm Liverpool too much this weekend. Perhaps that seems like an odd statement considering the success "the little Magician" has had against City in recent seasons, but his absence will be most keenly felt in those supposedly "easier" games against stubborn opponents who only want to pack the defence and frustrate Jurgen Klopp's side.
Liverpool certainly won't have to worry about navigating their way around a parked bus this Sunday. Providing the Reds can remain secure in defence there will be space for the forwards to run into and plenty of opportunities to counterattack, and they are fully capable of exploiting that even without Coutinho, particularly with Adam Lallana now fully fit again after a four-month layoff.
Liverpool are at their most dangerous when they can go hunting for the ball high up the pitch and play at a high tempo, but it is only possible to do that against opponents that want to play football rather than sit back and frustrate. City like to play out from the back and will always give you a chance, which is why Lallana could be a real difference-maker this weekend.
The England man stands to benefit more than most from the sale of Coutinho, as with a full squad fit and available, often he would have been competing with the Brazilian for a place in the side. As important as Lallana is to Liverpool, that is a battle he was unlikely to win very often.
Coutinho's departure at least simplifies things for Klopp in that regard. He no longer has to figure out how to get Lallana into his team without being forced to sacrifice one of the now defunct "Fab Four". When fit and available, Roberto Firmino, Sadio Mane and Mohamed Salah were going to occupy the front three positions more often than not, so going into the season one of the most intriguing questions was how would Klopp find a way to get his five best attacking players on the field at the same time.
Sunday's opponents have shown that it can be done. This year Pep Guardiola has deployed Kevin De Bruyne and David Silva in deeper roles than we are used to seeing them, which in turn has allowed City to still field three pacy forward players ahead of them.
Klopp may have been able to do something similar but unfortunately never had the opportunity, as Lallana picked up a serious injury in preseason and by the time he was ready to come back into the starting lineup, Coutinho already had one foot out of the exit door and was unavailable for selection.
Whether a midfield of Coutinho, Lallana and either Jordan Henderson or Emre Can would have worked is something we'll sadly never know. Having five attack-minded players works for Guardiola but his team dominate possession to such an extent that you sometimes feel they could play with no defenders and still not concede, simply because the opponent often cannot get out of their own half.
It's a little different with Liverpool, as their less than impressive defensive record shows. Depriving their back four of even more of the already scant midfield protection they get probably wouldn't have ended well, but the hope from supporters is that by adding Virgil Van Dijk to the defence and employing a more workmanlike midfield without Coutinho, Liverpool will be able to cut down on the amount of goals they are conceding, certainly away from home. At Anfield they have quietly been rather stingy, only conceded four Premier League goals in 11 games this season.
Lallana has been one of Liverpool's most important players ever since Klopp walked through the door, but now he is needed at his best level more than ever before. We know he will help bring energy to Liverpool's midfield and that he is often the catalyst for Klopp's famous gegenpress, but he also needs to contribute goals because very few of the other midfielders look like they can.
The former Southampton man was a regular scorer last season and it's important that he can maintain that because neither Georginio Wijnaldum nor James Milner have offered much of a goal threat this season. Emre Can did chip in with a few earlier in the season before he had to switch to a deeper role following an injury to Jordan Henderson, but Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain has never been a regular goalscorer at this level, so unless Klopp can bring somebody in, much of the burden seems to fall on Lallana's shoulders.
He is more than capable of providing what Liverpool need providing he can stay fit, but there is always the risk that he will succumb to injury again and it's little wonder that Klopp is trying to bring forward a deal for RB Leipzig's Naby Keita, who is due to sign for the Reds this summer.
It remains to be seen if the Reds can pull that off, but it's an exciting possibility for supporters. Having already brought in Van Dijk, if Liverpool were able to land Keita now as well they would arguably be stronger at the end of this window than they were at the start of it, even with the loss of Coutinho.
Dave Usher is one of ESPN FC's Liverpool bloggers. Follow him on Twitter: @theliverpoolway.