By Chris Davie
As setbacks go, it could have been a lot worse for Brendan Rodgers after hearing the news that Fabio Borini suffered a fractured foot whilst on international duty with Italy's Under-21s. But still, the forwards's injury further highlights Liverpool's woeful summer transfer window and the lack of attacking options at Anfield.
Despite the lack of clarity over Borini's strongest position within Rodgers' system, the Liverpool manager now has one less player to call upon in his already-depleted attack and the club's flourishing youth stars could be set for a prominent role in the first team ahead of the build-up to the heavy Christmas fixture schedule.
Borini's arrival at Liverpool signalled, as if there was any doubt, the change of style Rodgers wanted to implement at Anfield. However, the Italian has struggled to impress in the two games where he spearheaded the attack against Sunderland and Udinese, and has looked equally unconvincing when supporting Luis Suarez from a wider position.
The stats do not make a case for Borini's inclusion in Rodgers' side either. For a team who are now aiming to progress with a brand of possession-based football, the 21-year-old, at 76.7 per cent, has the worst pass completion ratio out of all of Liverpool's outfield players this season. Borini has also averaged around the same number of shots per game as Stewart Downing managed during his fruitless spell on the flanks last term.
But even with Borini's minimal impact, the pressure now mounts on Suarez, who has five league goals to his name so far this season, to carry Liverpool through until January. During Borini's absence, the Uruguayan is the only first-team regular capable of leading the line, other than him, Rodgers has the inexperience of his reserve strikers to call upon.
Adam Morgan could top the list of players who may be bumped into the first team squad after making his debut in August during Liverpool's Europa League play-off tie against Hearts. The 18-year-old also has two goals in five appearances for the club's Under-21 side this season.
Dani Pacheco recently voiced his discontent over a lack of first-team opportunities at Anfield but has failed to make inroads under three different managers since arriving at the club in 2007, while Jerome Sinclair was handed his debut for the club six days after his 16th birthday in Liverpool's League Cup victory over West Brom in September.
Another gamble for Rodgers would be the inclusion of 18-year-old Samed Yesil. The forward impressed for Germany's Under-17 side during the European Championship and World Cup in 2011 and was handed his Liverpool debut along with Sinclair in the League Cup against West Brom last month.
Borini's absence on the flanks will also be of concern for Rodgers as the Liverpool boss will again be forced to turn to inexperience unless he wishes to revert to last season's approach under Downing, or Joe Cole, who has yet to start a Premier League game because of a hamstring injury.
Oussama Assaidi will be a likely candidate to step into Borini's wide position following his arrival from Dutch side Heerenveen in the summer. The Morocco international has more natural ability than Borini when taking on full-backs, as well as a stronger eye for goal than the Italian, but the 24-year-old will be facing competition from Suso, who has started in Liverpool's last two league games and has handed a boost to fans by revealing his desire to commit his future to the club.
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Having failed to sign attacking reinforcements in the summer, the injury to Borini is likely to bring the same problems to Rodgers which haunted Kenny Dalglish during the Scot's reign last season. In front of goal, unless Suarez can drastically improve on his 11-goal haul last term, Liverpool will struggle to find the cutting edge over opponents.
Borini is also set to miss six to eight weeks of action which includes games against Everton, Newcastle United, Chelsea and Tottenham. With just one league win so far this term, Rodgers would ideally want to avoid testing young players during such a tricky set of fixtures but the Liverpool manager's selection choice will almost certainly be forced.
For now, Liverpool's main priority will be to ensure Suarez continues his run in front of goal, stays clear of injury, and fails to add to the three bookings he has picked up this season as two more yellows cards would lead to a one-match suspension and subsequently an unproven player leading the attack.