Liverpool’s week has shown that mere football has never been the club’s be-all and end-all, but as the dust settles and a clearer focus returns to the pitch, there are reminders about the almost soap opera state of the current team.
In the latest plotline, Mamadou Sakho – rapidly becoming less of a mistake waiting to happen and more of an arms whirring, legs pumping, goal scoring cult hero – has been provisionally suspended for 30 days by UEFA following his failed drugs test. A much longer ban will surely and rightly follow.
Former, and still current, favourite Rafael Benitez – rising from the ashes like Dirty Den used to do in EastEnders – somehow took two points from Liverpool last Saturday in a familiar storyline again devised by Simon Mignolet, but in truth that hardly registered in the collective Red consciousness for long. Bigger battles lay ahead both on and off the pitch.
Because tonight they are at Villarreal in a Europa League semi-final, and the cast of characters is dwindling.
Divock Origi, Emre Can and Jordan Henderson will all be missing, joining Sakho in leaving Jurgen Klopp four men down from the XI which started Liverpool’s last European away game, the impressive 1-1 draw in the quarter-final first leg in Dortmund which set the stage for the chaos to come in the second.
Klopp is blessed with quality replacements, of course, and it is very probable that Joe Allen, Roberto Firmino and Daniel Sturridge – who all came off the bench in Germany – will start tonight, but given the absences elsewhere he is also likely to call upon one or both of Liverpool’s recurring guest stars.
Because where EastEnders has Ian Beale, Coronation Street has Ken Barlow, Neighbours has Lou Carpenter and Harold Bishop and Hollyoaks has, er, y’know, whatshisname, Liverpool have Lucas Leiva and Kolo Toure.
In the pair come, occasionally playing starring roles in storylines such February’s Capital One Cup final when injuries to Sakho, Dejan Lovren and Martin Skrtel saw them paired together at centre-back up against Sergio Aguero. They generally did alright, until Lucas missed a penalty in the shootout and strained a thigh muscle in the process.
And the fact you can never quite be sure just what the pair are going to do next only adds to the intrigue when they are involved.
Lest we forget, various Liverpool managers have tried to write Lucas out of their script over the years, the most recent being Brendan Rodgers back in August.
The Brazilian – now Liverpool’s longest serving player – has been the great survivor though, reinventing himself as a central defender of some promise, if one that is let down by a lack of pace.
Toure, too, was expected to depart the club last summer only to stay and sign a new one year deal.
Just the mere mention of the Ivorian’s name brings smile to the face of Liverpool’s supporters, as he trots onto the pitch – perhaps to the mental sound of Harold Bishop’s tuba – to reassure his teammates, and in turn the fans, that everything is going to be alright.
Yet ignore the fact that he’s 35 and clearly past his best, and you’ve got a player who has largely done okay in his three seasons at Liverpool. That tenure will probably come to an end in the summer, but perhaps not without one last hurrah.
In light of Sakho’s ban and Skrtel’s sudden and dramatic decline in abilities, one of Toure or Lucas has to start alongside Lovren on Spain’s Eastern coast tonight. If it is to be Toure, then there could be a spot for Lucas in front of the back four.
Either way, we are going to see one or both of them in what has become Liverpool’s biggest storyline of the season.
The pair’s lack of pace could leave them in trouble against a tricky, vibrant Villarreal side glowing in their yellow kits, but you can be certain that both will give their all for cause.
In a way, their presence underlines that whilst a lot seems to change at Liverpool week after week, there are always some things which stay the same.
If this is to be a critically-acclaimed night for Liverpool, then the spotlight could well fall on one of their guest stars.
Read more from Mark Jones