It’s not necessarily that supporters feared for their prospects in the match without their captain on the field, it’s more that they were looking into the future with a certain amount of dread about what was potentially to come.
Emre Can has been absent from the team due to a back injury for quite a few weeks. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain’s season is over following his devastating cruciate knee ligament injury suffered against Roma in midweek while Adam Lallana is again on the treatment table.
Liverpool are reasonably assured of progress in the Champions League thanks to their 5-2 win over the Italians but facing a final – potentially against Real Madrid – without their best midfielders would be too much to bear.
There is still work to be done in the Premier League as well of course with the most pessimistic Anfield attendees now fretting over being overtaken by Tottenham and Chelsea – who they play next week – and missing out on the top four altogether.
But it’s the games against the Stokes and the West Broms that have caused the worries. Liverpool should be well clear of those two London teams by now and looking to bloody the noses of Manchester United in second place. But they have been unable to put that contest beyond doubt.
Jurgen Klopp’s team have drawn 12 times in the league this season and are counting the cost of a massive difference in standard between their first-choice players and the rest.
That is why the sight of Henderson going down was so frightening. If he doesn’t play – and with Can, Adam Lallana and Oxlade-Chamberlain already absent – who would feature with James Milner and Gini Wijnaldum?
The manager surely would rather play these games without the likes of Henderson, Mohamed Salah and maybe even Virgil van Dijk and Roberto Firmino.
Facing a Roma side on Wednesday – against whom no slipups can be tolerated – the Reds ranks need to be fresh, rested and focussed. Consider that Bayern Munich – who play Real Madrid in their semi-final second leg on Tuesday – beat Eintracht Frankfurt on Saturday with what amounts to a B-team and that Madrid could afford to give Cristiano Ronaldo the night off against Leganes in La Liga.
Salah, Firmino – and plenty more of those who would be expected to start at the Stadio Olimpico – were fielded from the start on Saturday in a lopsided Liverpool XI which again highlighted a worrying lack of depth in the squad.
Danny Ings was started given that Sadio Mane was nursing a knock but time off for senior players is not a luxury that Liverpool can currently afford. And that is what could jeopardise their two-fronted assault this season and affect their chances of success in the next campaign for that matter.
Naby Keita will arrive for big money but it’s likely that Can will be gone like Philippe Coutinho before him. Will owners FSG support Klopp in the transfer market in the same manner as Manchester City and Manchester United?
History suggests not and that means Liverpool will attempt to survive with a very narrow band of high-class performers relative to their fellow top-four contenders.
Their front three are as good as you’d find at any other team in Europe. In fact, outside Madrid and Barcelona, you’ll not find a better forward than Salah. But consistency is all the more difficult to achieve when stand-in performers simply can’t do the job.
Salah is entitled to off-days. This was his first scoreless match at home since December 26. He had one great chance which he flicked just wide but it says plenty about the Egyptian King’s form that many inside the ground were still celebrating by the time Jack Butland was lining up his goal-kick. Their eyes were deceiving them. Yes, Mo Salah had just missed.
Klopp has done incredibly well to manage this squad to this point in the season. There were probably six or eight more teams contesting the Champions League at the start of the season with a more realistic shot of making the final four. To keep his team in contention for glory there – as well as fulfilling objectives domestically – should be marked down as a significant success for the boss. But it won’t last forever. Eventually, the injuries will take their toll.
When Salah went off against Manchester City – clutching his groin - many feared the worst. It proved to be precautionary. He is so important to the team though – and so much is still in the balance – that Klopp cannot realistically afford to give him any decent time off.
And so Liverpool find themselves in this situation. With a good chunk of their better players missing, they are forced to turn to the bench. And when that happens, their chances of consistent performance recede. That in turn puts more emphasis on the big players and dictates that they’re needed again and again.
The season is ending and Liverpool are running out of steam. They will probably make it over the finishing line but their over-delivery this season should not be mistaken for a guarantee of consistency. Klopp is taking them to the brink but he’s going to need big backing in the summer to make sure they can stay there.