Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp has joked Thiago Alcantara will be his January signing – despite the Spain international having already arrived in September.
The 29-year-old’s £20million move from Bayern Munich was hailed as a game-changer for the defending champions as it offered them world-class creativity in midfield.
However, he has played just 120 minutes – the second half at Chelsea and October’s Merseyside derby in which he sustained a significant knee injury in a challenge which saw Richarlison sent off late on.
After a couple of false dawns Klopp accepted they were not likely to see the player return until the new year and even after he took his first steps towards a comeback by starting individual outdoor training sessions Klopp played down the significance.
“We already made jokes here that we should sign Thiago for January,” said the Reds boss.
“He gets closer and closer and is in a good way but we will not rush it we cannot rush it and he will not because he is not allowed to rush it.
“But of course it’s nice having him on the pitch training, doing a lot of stuff, but he was not in team training yet and that is actually the final step.
“We will see how it is. We get (a look) at him on the pitch and then next week, can he be in team training? I don’t know at the moment 100 per cent, a few tests he has to pass until we make that decision.
“Hopefully that is not only for the case (for him), with (James) Milner it will be similar, with Shaq (Xherdan Shaqiri) it will be similar.”
Saturday’s trip to Crystal Palace presents Klopp with one of his pet hates, a quick turnaround from an Wednesday night match, but with their opponents having also played in midweek he believes it is less of an issue on this occasion.
“That’s the main difference this time to all the other games we played at 12.30,” he added.
“When two teams have exactly the same it doesn’t make the timing better but it is obviously a fair competition.
“We had that much more often than all the other teams but that is not now the problem. The problem now is between Wednesday night and Saturday 1230 there is not a lot of time for anything.
“We will see who can cope better with that but it is the most tricky thing to do for a manager.”
Avoiding defeat will see Liverpool be top at Christmas for the third successive year but their away form this season has been patchy, with just one win and four draws from their six matches.
Klopp insists it is not an issue which is on their minds but accepts the form has to improve.
“We didn’t feel it, maybe that’s the mistake,” he said.
“It was a little bit about our opponents, we were slightly unlucky in one or two games, but it is a fact we didn’t win a lot away from home so we try to change that by doing the right things again and not the not-so-right things any more.
“We will put a shift in, playing the best possible football is actually the plan away and home and from time to time we could achieve that and we try tomorrow again.”
On Thursday Klopp won the men’s coach of the year at the FIFA Best Football Awards for the second successive season, having guided the club to their first title triumph in 30 years.
He was surprised to get the award as he felt Bayern Munich’s Hansi Flick, who won both the Bundesliga and Champions League, was more deserving.
“I was looking wide-eyed like ‘How did that happen?’. I didn’t expect it, not at all. I thought Hansi Flick won pretty much everything in the last year,” he said.
“If you had asked me ‘Are you the world’s best coach?’ I would have said ‘No’. If you had asked me ‘Do you have the world’s best coaches around you?’ I would have said ‘Yes’.”