Nat Phillips is one of Liverpool's young defenders the manager is relying on in the absence of Joe Gomez, Trent Alexander-Arnold and Virgil van Dijk

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Jürgen Klopp, the Liverpool manager, says his youngsters can “smell the opportunity” to solve the club’s injury crisis as he prepares for one of the most challenging periods of his management career.

Three of his usual back four – Virgil van Dijk, Joe Gomez and Trent Alexander-Arnold – will be absent against Leicester City on Sunday.

Captain Jordan Henderson is also out, Mohamed Salah has Covid-19, and, as of Friday, Thiago Alcantara had still not joined full training.

Fabinho is back with the full squad, however, improving his chances of an imminent return.

Despite the expectation, Klopp will be forced into the transfer market to cover the long-term absence of Van Dijk and Gomez, the Liverpool manager said Nat Phillips and Rhys Williams had demonstrated they could step up.

Asked about January deals, Klopp said: “We will see. If we can do something in January, I have no idea. If we want to do something in January, I have no idea.

“I don’t want to compare situations but when I came to Dortmund in 2008 my two centre-halves were 19 and turned 20 that winter, and we played with them for that entire time. Mats Hummels and Neven Subotic. We have talent here. They are young – 18, 19, 23 – and we have more experienced players, so we will see.

Chris Bascombe’s Liverpool briefing

“Everybody has a chance. We have midfielders – not in the moment but hopefully in a couple of weeks – who can play the more defensive role as well. We’ll just have to see. For the moment, we are fine. We use the boys we have. You should see them in training. They can smell the chance and they step up. They want to show they are ready. I’m really confident it will work out with the boys and then hopefully we can convince the rest of the world as well.”

Liverpool lost Alexander-Arnold with a muscle problem during their last game at Manchester City. Klopp said his marauding full-back had been modifying his game in an effort to avoid such an injury.

“We changed many things because of the season,” he said. “You might have seen, Trent’s role was a different one in the games he played. It was not up and down the wing constantly, it was more in different spaces. We are constantly thinking of how we use the players in the right way because our target is always long term, never short term. That’s why we are really careful, or as careful as we can be.”

Thiago has played just 135 minutes since joining last summer – a source of frustration for Klopp as much as his player.

“If he could have played before, he would have played before, but he couldn’t,” said Klopp. “But he is out there on the pitch running, doing a lot of stuff, and it will not be too long anymore. In the beginning we got the horrible pictures from Virgil and were kind of relieved it’s not that serious for Thiago, but it was always clear it wouldn’t be two or three days. At first, we thought it would settle quickly, but it didn’t and that’s what you have to accept.

“We will not rush it. We prepare him for the rest of the season, not for the first game he can play again.

“Players have to train in the big sessions with the team, and not only once. If it’s really serious and we have no other players, then maybe one session has to be enough from time to time. That doesn’t happen very often. But Fabinho was part of normal team training.”