Liverpool planted their feet and pushed Manchester City firmly back behind them in the race for the Premier League title on Sunday after an epic and enthralling 3-2 victory over the Citizens at Anfield.
A breathless first half put the Reds two goals up by the half-time break, before City came back into the match with two of their own around the hour mark. A late Philippe Coutinho strike sealed the win and three points for the table-topping Reds, though the game was not without a couple of down sides for Brendan Rodgers' team.
Midfielder Jordan Henderson was sent off late on in the game for a late lunging tackle, while striker Daniel Sturridge left the field with a hamstring issue. Both players will be dearly missed, but Henderson's absence especially will force at least one of the Reds' substitute midfield options to step up in a big way over the coming matches to ensure the title bid doesn't fall off track.
The Reds have four league games left, and Henderson is likely to miss three of them, though manager Rodgers was hopeful after the game that only a one-match ban would ensue, as per BBC Sport.
Liverpool: Jordan Henderson's red card vs Manchester City is the first Liverpool have received in the Premier League this season— WhoScored.com (@WhoScored) April 13, 2014
With his energy and box-to-box ability missing, Liverpool will need to call on somebody capable of winning the ball in the centre, pressing hard ahead of deepest midfielder Steven Gerrard and linking up play quickly to the front three or four players.
That all points to Joe Allen, who is in a good run of form—off the bench and when starting games, importantly—though Lucas Leiva could also be called upon in a similar role.
Sturridge Absence Forces Shape Change
Striker Sturridge left the field with an apparent hamstring injury, though the extent of the damage is as yet unknown.
SUB Liverpool make their first change as Daniel Sturridge limps off to be replaced by Joe Allen. It's Liverpool 2-2 Man City (67 mins)— Premier League (@premierleague) April 13, 2014
BR: "He [Sturridge] felt a wee bit of tightness in his hamstring, so we'll see how that is in the next couple of days."— Rise Of The Kop (@RiseOfTheKop) April 13, 2014
However, shorn of two regular starters, Liverpool will almost certainly have to abandon their diamond midfield shape, unless Rodgers has plans to bring in a player such as Iago Aspas or Victor Moses, neither of whom have started a league match in 2014.
Instead, both Lucas and Allen would likely come in to play central midfield in a 4-3-3 with Gerrard behind them. They are both capable of delivering the intense pressure and pressing that Coutinho and Henderson have given of late, though whether Lucas and Allen can consistently replicate the other pair's telling ability in the final third is yet to be seen.
In this shape, Coutinho would move into the front three, with Raheem Sterling and Luis Suarez the other components.
In truth, it's still a strong Liverpool XI, one which should see off the challenge of struggling Norwich City, who are next up. The Reds will very much hope to have their striker back, at least, for the Chelsea fixture at Anfield.
Not just for his goals and final third contribution, but also because he brings the added tactical flexibility and variation from other players.
Who should directly replace Henderson?
Rodgers may have one other option: stick with the diamond and play Sterling as the second centre-forward. The youngster still needs to work on his finishing of course, but his goal against Manchester City showcased both his movement and his composure. He has played up front for the Reds previously as part of a two—against Everton last season, for example—and Rodgers is absolutely not afraid to use him in different roles.
Sterling and Coutinho in particular have proven excellent at linking up with each other to good effect in recent weeks, and getting them in close proximity against Norwich could yield great results for Liverpool.
Other than the forwards, though, it will be a case of all eyes on the Reds' midfield, and particularly the player who comes in to replace Henderson, to ensure that performance and quality levels are not dropped, as Liverpool close in on a long-awaited Premier League title.