Adam Lallana's untimely injury last week meant Jurgen Klopp had a difficult decision to make ahead of Saturday's Merseyside Derby vs. Everton. The England midfielder is irreplaceable; there is nobody in the Liverpool squad who can replicate what Lallana does with and without possession.
Klopp had a number of options, but none were ideal. In the end he went with the most experienced choice: Lucas Leiva. It proved to be the correct decision, with the long-serving Brazilian producing a terrific display as Liverpool ran out comfortable 3-1 winners to extend their lead over Everton to nine points.
Though Dejan Lovren rightly earned plaudits for keeping Romelu Lukaku quiet, the defender's job was made easier by the diligent work of Lucas in front of him.
Whenever the ball was played up to Lukaku, Lovren or fellow centre-back Joel Matip would make the initial challenge, but Lucas was invariably close at hand to pick up the second ball. He played the role to perfection and more than justified his selection as Lukaku was a complete non-factor in the game.
Whether Lucas should retain his place for the entirety of Lallana's absence is debatable -- a more attacking lineup might be required in some of Liverpool's remaining fixtures -- but it was the right call on this occasion and the veteran can be proud of the part he played in the win, as should the rest of his teammates.
Liverpool had impressive performances all over the pitch on Saturday and, in contrast to the thoughts of Blues' boss Ronald Koeman afterward, were good value for the win and dominated for much of the game.
Unlike Koeman, Klopp was able to field his preferred defensive unit as well as his best front three, but it was the performance of the midfield that will give supporters the most encouragement.
The selection of Lucas meant a change in role for Emre Can, who had recently returned to form while standing in for injured skipper Jordan Henderson in the "No. 6" position.
Moving Can into more of a two-way role was something of a risk on Klopp's part but it paid off, as Can turned in a real powerhouse performance despite being on the receiving end of shocking challenges from Ross Barkley and Ashley Williams.
Can has had plenty of criticism this year -- most of it justified -- but performances like this one will go a long way towards winning over supporters and securing a contract extension. He has come into form at just the right time, given the injuries to Lallana and Henderson.
The win sets Liverpool up nicely for the rest of the season. Defeat on Saturday would not only have jeopardised their chances of securing a top-four spot, it would have cut their lead over Everton to just three points.
Instead, rather than chasing Manchester City and the Spurs, Liverpool would have been looking over their shoulders and worrying about being overtaken by Manchester United, Arsenal and yes, even Everton. It would now be in Liverpool's best interests for Everton to beat Manchester United this week, as Jose Mourinho's side look to be bigger challengers for a place in the top four.
The only sour note from the weekend was an injury to Sadio Mane. Liverpool cannot afford to lose him for any length of time; his absence at the African Nations Cup in January, during which time Liverpool failed to win a league game, proved how much of a struggle it can be for them without the forward.
Part of the reason Mane was missed so much then was that Philippe Coutinho was badly out of form, but he looked back to his best on Saturday and mesmerised the Everton defence with a series of turns and shimmies. He scored one brilliant goal, almost had another and also created the third for Divock Origi.
If Coutinho can rediscover some form and consistency over the final eight games, Liverpool should feel confident about securing a top-four spot, particularly given the difficult fixtures and Europa League involvement of United.
There are bound to be some twists and turns along the way, however, and tricky away fixtures at Stoke and West Brom will certainly pose a big challenge for the Reds in the next few weeks, especially if Mane is ruled out.
Ahead of that, Wednesday night's game with Bournemouth at Anfield is a fixture Liverpool simply must win. It also gives them a chance to exact some revenge for a 4-3 defeat that followed a shocking late collapse in December's reverse fixture.
Liverpool played some nice football on Saturday, but were far from their dazzling best. The victory was earned through hard work, determination to win personal duels and the team showing the kind of resilience that they are often accused of lacking.
The key now is whether they can maintain it for the remaining eight games. If they can, there will almost certainly be Champions League football on Merseyside next season.