Liverpool's worst fears confirmed as top four bid takes a hit
Injuries and illness are threatening to derail Liverpool's bid for Champions League football after Sadio Mane was ruled out for the rest of the season and Philippe Coutinho took unwell.
Mane is to undergo surgery on knee cartilage damage sustained in last week's Merseyside derby, adding his name to those of captain Jordan Henderson, fellow midfielders Adam Lallana and Ovie Ejaria and striker Danny Ings who are currently available for Jurgen Klopp's third-placed side.
Coutinho, forced off in Wednesday's draw against Bournemouth after being sick at half-time, is a major doubt for Saturday's trip to Stoke leaving Klopp with a major selection headache.
The squad will travel this evening - without Coutinho - to their Staffordshire pre-match hotel but his manager will give the Brazil international until the last possible opportunity to prove his fitness and has not ruled out him joining up with the team in the hours before kick-off.
"I am pretty sure Sadio will need surgery but I am not 100 per cent sure when it will happen but then it is clear 'season over'," said Klopp.
"Phil is still ill. He was not at Melwood yesterday and he will not be here today. He feels much better but we will have to see if we can bring him tomorrow.
"Stoke is not too far away so we will give him all the time he needs.
"It compromises our situation and makes like not easy. These are the highest-quality players and if you took out all the players which we miss now from other teams I'd be surprised if they could play their best football.
"We don't play them (the top six) any more so we don't have influence on their games but I don't think 65 points (Liverpool currently have 60) will be enough to go to Champions League so we need to collect a few more points.
"Our opponents are really strong and two of the six will not be in the Champions League.
"But at this moment it is only how we can make a line-up against Stoke - and that is a real challenge."
With so many players sidelined Liverpool's squad for tomorrow will be stretched to the limit with more under-23 players likely to come in to join those youngsters who have been included previously.
Striker Daniel Sturridge will be in the squad again, having been an unused substitute in midweek, but he has not played since February 4 and ideally Klopp would like to ease him back.
If Coutinho does not make it that could mean a first league start for 17-year-old Ben Woodburn who, even though he became the club's youngest goalscorer in November, has made just seven appearances.
It has left Klopp open to questions about why he did not strengthen in January when his side were still in the title race and why his squad is not deeper.
"I would love to replace a player with exactly the same quality, maybe his twin," added Klopp.
"But having too many players is not good for a squad because you kill development.
"In this moment we have not enough experienced players so we have to replace them with youth and less-experienced boys.
"I don't think we have a lot (of injuries) because of intensity. Yes it has been intense but intensity is nothing to do with Hendo's injury, Adam's injury (on international duty) was a little bit about this but we couldn't influence this, Phil's injury against Sunderland was a challenge, Sadio was the same.
"We learn from all these things but we cannot use this in this moment.
"We have to only think about the things we can influence now and not what we will do about it in the future."