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COMMENT Jurgen Klopp has a plan in mind as he prepares for next weekend's showdown with Man City

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Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp with Xherdan Shaqiri before his introduction as a substitute and his assist for Liverpool’s winner against West Ham (Peter Powell/PA Images).

Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp with Xherdan Shaqiri before his introduction as a substitute and his assist for Liverpool’s winner against West Ham (Peter Powell/PA Images).

Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp with Xherdan Shaqiri before his introduction as a substitute and his assist for Liverpool’s winner against West Ham (Peter Powell/PA Images).

LIVERPOOL took a brutal hook to the chin when Virgil van Dijk was ruled out for so long, and it feels like the whole club are still trying to clear their heads.

Diogo Jota’s 85th-minute winner gave Liverpool a deserved win against West Ham last night. The three points were so vital on a day when Manchester City and Chelsea had already picked up victories.

Yet, these are tough times for Jurgen Klopp and his players, with the wins they have picked up in the last couple of weeks scrappy and unconvincing, as this team tries to get back on track after an incident that rocked the club to its core.

Losing a player of Van Dijk’s calibre with the kind of injury he sustained in his clash with Everton keeper Jordan Pickford would rattle any team. Yet, you can see the impact it has had on everyone else in the team in the games that they have played since.

Liverpool just about got through last weekend’s game against Sheffield United at Anfield, they scraped past Midtjylland in the Champions League on Wednesday and they were off the pace again against West Ham last night.

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Nathaniel Phillips stands his ground under pressure from West Ham's Tomas Soucek. Photo: PA

Nathaniel Phillips stands his ground under pressure from West Ham's Tomas Soucek. Photo: PA

Nathaniel Phillips stands his ground under pressure from West Ham's Tomas Soucek. Photo: PA

With Nathaniel Phillips making his Premier League debut alongside an equally youthful Joe Gomez at the heart of the Liverpool defence, West Ham knew they had a chance to create chances if they put balls into the right areas.

The selection of Phillips was something of a surprise, because even though he is a fine young player and has some experience under his belt from a loan spell in Germany with Stuttgart last year, he had never played a Premier League game.

Phillips is not even registered to play in the Champions League, but that may have played a part in the decision to pick him for the West Ham game.

Rhys Williams came on to replace Fabinho when he picked up his injury against Midtjylland, but Klopp needed to make sure he didn’t pick up an injury ahead of the Atalanta game, and that may be why he went with Phillips.

Klopp is doing his best to shuffle his pack and limit the damage to his side’s title defence, but it is a balancing act that has changed the mentality around Liverpool on so many levels.

Van Dijk’s absence means the opposition know Liverpool are vulnerable at the back now. You could see that David Moyes and his players fancied their chances.

They went with powerful players to try and expose Liverpool’s weakness in the air and while the champions did well to stop crosses coming into their box, you could see they were vulnerable when the visitors went forward.

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Yet, for me, the performance going the other way was of equal concern, because you can see the confidence of the whole team has been shaken by the Van Dijk injury.

The spark that made Klopp’s team so special as they won the Premier League title last season is lacking, but you sense the manager is trying to edge his way towards the big game on the horizon against Manchester City next Sunday.

I’m pretty sure that Thiago was fit to play last night, but he is looking at the tricky Champions League game against Atalanta and the City game next weekend as the matches when he will need his big-hitters playing.

If Liverpool could get Joel Matip fit for the City game and have him alongside Gomez with Thiago in midfield, Klopp would feel he has a chance to get something out of that game at the Etihad Stadium.

Yet, this is not how Klopp would have envisaged this season working out when he and the club’s key decision makers opted against signing an additional centre-back in the last transfer window.

It was always a risk to go into the season with three senior central defenders and Fabinho as the back-up, but they hoped the nightmare scenario of losing Van Dijk would not happen.

You could say now that they were mad not to sign a centre-back after Dejan Lovren left, but I can see why they decided to go with what they had as it looked like that might have enough, so long as Van Dijk was fit.

Big Virgil has such a fantastic injury record and it was a reasonable gamble to hope he would not be out with a long-term injury. That has come to pass now and Liverpool are exposed.

Matip and Gomez don’t have great injury records, and you are hoping Fabinho’s hamstring problem is not too bad and he can come back soon.

It is not ideal and Liverpool will need to do everything they can to try and address the issue in the January transfer window, but that will not be easy.

All the matters for now is trying to pick up wins to keep themselves in the mix for the big trophies. In Jota, they have a player who has hit the ground running since his move from Wolves.

His winner last night means that he has scored in his last three matches, and they have all been vital goals at a time when Liverpool are not at their best.

I’d also give credit to Klopp last night, as he threw Xherdan Shaqiri and Jota on from the bench at a time when West Ham were settling for a draw.

That negative attitude from the Hammers gave Liverpool the chance to push for all three points, and they got it with a fine move and good finish from Jota.

Liverpool are hanging in there. When you look at the table this morning, they are sitting in top spot, which is never a bad place to be.

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