Liverpool have been dealt a major blow in their quest to seal Champions League qualification after playmaker Adam Lallana was ruled out for the majority of their run-in with a thigh injury.
Lallana took a kick to the leg during England’s World Cup qualification victory over Lithuania at Wembley on Sunday, and despite playing the full 90 minutes has subsequently succumbed to the knock.
The 28-year-old is set to be sidelined for up to a month as the Merseysiders seek a return to Europe’s elite club competition – a tournament they have not featured in since 2014.
Such a lay-off would see the former Southampton midfielder miss five of Liverpool’s remaining nine Premier League fixtures, beginning with Saturday’s clash against neighbours Everton at Anfield.
Liverpool head into the derby in fourth place, four points clear of Manchester United in fifth and six ahead of Arsenal, although both of those sides have two games in hand.
Lallana is also expected to be sidelined for the Reds’ home clash with Bournemouth, back-to-back away trips to the Midlands to face Stoke and West Brom and the hosting of Crystal Palace.
Should Lallana return to fitness on schedule, he would be available for Liverpool’s final four games of the season against Watford, his ex-employers Southampton, West Ham and Middlesbrough.
The saving grace for Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp may be that his team have no matches left against any of the clubs currently in the top six, although Lallana’s absence is still likely to be keenly felt.
St Albans-born Lallana has emerged as key performer this season, netting seven Premier League goals and weighing in with as many assists during a productive campaign.
His injury does, however, come at a time when Jordan Henderson remains out of action with a foot problem and is a doubt for Saturday’s showdown with Everton, having missed Liverpool’s previous four matches.
Striker Daniel Sturridge is also currently sidelined, while Brazil’s Philippe Coutinho has failed to rekindle his early season form after returning from an ankle issue in January.
Lallana’s worth has also become evident on the international stage as he scored on three successive England appearances earlier in the campaign. His vision and pass set up Jamie Vardy’s strike for the Three Lions at the weekend.
It is the second time this season that Lallana has returned from international duty with an injury, having missed several weeks in November following England’s 2-2 draw with Spain.