Fortunately, Liverpool new $20m midfield signing Wataru Endo has already shown he can be the best on the pitch when confronted by elite opposition.
The just acquired midfielder will help to fill the void created by the exits of captain Jordan Henderson and vice-captain James Milner in more ways than one.
First and foremost, Endo partly addresses the shortage of defensive midfielders in the Reds’ squad. But he should also offer leadership in the dressing room as the skipper of not only Stuttgart but the Japan national team too.
Japan sprung two historic upsets in the World Cup group stages last year, beating Germany and Spain in its first two matches to seal a place in the knockout stages when many had written the nation off.
Endo was subsequently rested for the final fixture against Costa Rica, with progression already assured, but returned to the starting line-up for the round of 16 match-up with eventual third-place finishsers Croatia.
After Ivan Perišić canceled out Daizen Maeda’s goal in normal time, the match went all the way to extra time and penalties, with Croatia eventually prevailing 3-1 in the shoot-out.
He may have emerged on the losing side at the Al Janoub Stadium, but Endo was the best player on the pitch, as his man of the match award from The Athletic demonstrates.
Above all else, the number six did the dirty work effectively, placing second in the Japan ranks for combined tackles and interceptions (three) and for blocks (also three).
He also prevailed in virtually every 50/50 he contested, winning a match-high six out of seven ground duels, and going the whole game without being dribbled past.
On a couple of occasions, he beat opposite number Mateo Kovačić — signed by Manchester City for $38m (£30m/€35m) earlier this summer — to the ball with sliding challenges.
Well-known Twitter number-cruncher Statman Dave wrote that Endo was ‘everywhere’ over the course of the game, and that’s borne out by his tally of seven ball recoveries, the third-best in his team.
In possession, he was even more effective. He led Japan for completed passes (60) and passing accuracy (87) per cent, even though he was often under pressure from Kovačić when he received it in his own half.
Sometimes a high retention rate can indicate a midfielder is playing it safe, but it wouldn’t be fair to say that about Endo here. He topped the Japan ranks for progressive passes (eight) and passes into the penalty area, and was second for passes into the final third (six).
The man with the armband was able to pick out balls that broke the Croatia lines or released wingers into space down the flanks.
He was also the most effective playmaker in the game, leading the way for shot-creating actions (five) and expected assisted goals (0.5) while also fashioning two big chances.
Endo went close to scoring himself too when he whipped a shot goalwards from 25 yards, but Dominik Livaković was able to tip it over the crossbar. No Japan player had more attempts than his three.
The final element of his display that stood out was his ability to win fouls. By getting his body between man and ball, he drew four over the course of the match, more than anybody else.
Croatia’s midfield included not only Kovacic but also Real Madrid icon Luka Modrić, and yet neither could match Endo. Between them, they only managed to win five out of 14 ground duels, they lost possession 29 times and they were also dribbled past on three occasions.
Endo didn’t get the outcome he deserved that day, but from the Liverpool perspective, this was an exciting glimpse of what he can do up against an elite midfield.