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Coutinho killjoy: Liverpool's win overshadowed by worrying injury

It was the result Liverpool had wanted, toiled for, and had been patient enough to force. Sunderland’s “double-decker bus” had its tyres punctured by a curler into the far post by Divock Origi, before James Milner drove a dent into it from the penalty spot.

The Reds, who are now 14 games unbeaten on the spin, made sure they did the business and the sense of triumph after dismantling an approach which is the antithesis of theirs was strong.

But as the temperature dropped to below freezing, there was a bittersweet feeling about proceedings on Saturday afternoon.

'It's falling apart!' - Coutinho injury horror

Liverpool had won, but lost their star performer in the process - Philippe Coutinho needing to be carried off the pitch in the first half, and the nail-biting over his diagnosis will be frantic. 

The afternoon had started and ended gloriously - sunshine wrapped the sky and Steven Gerrard, who called time on his playing career this week, was back home at Anfield to watch his side regain top spot in the Premier League.

News that 17-year-old Ben Woodburn had made the bench was also a source of delight, while captain Jordan Henderson was marking his 250th career league appearance against his boyhood club.

But the mood darkened on Merseyside around the half-hour mark as Coutinho’s face was painted with agony. The Brazilian writhed around the Sunderland box with his hand on his right foot and his head on the turf. 

The 24-year-old’s ankle had been caught by Didier Ndong as the Gabon international cleared a Liverpool opportunity and he had to be stretchered off with his hurt leg in a protective brace.

Milner & Origi send Liverpool above City

The injury unsettled the hosts, with the Reds off colour until just before the break, when they reclaimed more control.

Having started effervescently, with Roberto Firmino and Gini Wijnaldum having early opportunities, the fizzle faded following the setback. 

Dejan Lovren had a header as well as a shot from distance that both went wide, with Liverpool upping the ante after the break. 

Firmino, Emre Can and Sadio Mane all went close, before Origi made his effort count. The Belgian, who replaced Coutinho, received the ball on the left, created space for himself with fine footwork and got the better of Jordan Pickford.

Ndong clumsily caught Mane in the area during injury time, with James Milner continuing his flawless record from the spot for Liverpool. 

Jurgen Klopp's analysis was telling. "I’m not sure I’ve ever played against a more defensive team than today," he said. 

"Man-marking against Phil Coutinho, [Victor] Anichebe left full-back, don’t know how many touches [Jermain] Defoe had, so that [comparing the games] would not be nice to Southampton.

"The box was quite full and we had the situations where we could have made this or that better decisions, but the closer the space gets the more difficult it is so you need to stay patient, it’s not allowed to get frustrated or things like this in their body language – you must really stay straight and in the situation, then you’re always ready for this one moment. 

"That’s the job for all of us to do when you want to be in the top region of the table, you need to collect points and don’t care against who."


HOW SERIOUS IS COUTINHO'S INJURY?


Attention will now turn to Coutinho, who has been so pivotal to their bulldozing start to the campaign - and will be instrumental to their title ambitions.

Klopp's outlook has been optimistic over the club’s two-time Player of the Season.

“We have to wait for the scan. What we know in this moment is it is something with the ankle and that’s it, so we all have to wait.

“He had pain, but pain gets better. In the first moment, it was obviously very painful but when I saw him at half-time, he said the pain was much better. We have to wait."


HOW LONG WILL COUTINHO BE OUT FOR?


Klopp added: "If I have no idea what it is, how can I imagine how long it will be [out]? I am actually quite an optimistic guy – so I hope he can train tomorrow!”

Coutinho left Anfield on crutches, but the player will be hoping his manager's positivity is as close to reality as possible. As will Liverpool.