LONDON • Liverpool's preparations for their Champions League semi-final second leg against Roma tomorrow have been dealt a serious blow after it was revealed that assistant manager Zeljko Buvac will be absent due to "personal reasons".
The Bosnian was on the touchline for Saturday's goalless draw at home to Stoke, but speculation began circulating on Sunday that he had quit following a bust-up with manager Jurgen Klopp.
Liverpool have rubbished the rumour by saying that Buvac is "spending some time away from the first-team environment between now and the end of the season" and declined to comment further on what they regard as a private matter.
The players were informed of Buvac's leave of absence at training on Sunday - just three days before they take a 5-2 first-leg lead to the Stadio Olimpico.
Klopp and Buvac have worked together for the past 17 years, with Klopp hailing Buvac as "the brain" of his backroom staff with fellow assistant Peter Krawietz described as "the eye".
Buvac, 56, played alongside Klopp at Mainz in the early 1990s and they were reunited at the German club in 2001 when Buvac became the assistant manager under Klopp.
They enjoyed great success together as Mainz were promoted to the Bundesliga for the first time and earned European qualification.
In 2008, Buvac moved with Klopp to Borussia Dortmund and helped lead them to back-to-back Bundesliga titles. They also reached the Champions League final in 2013.
Buvac followed Klopp to Anfield in October 2015 and is highly respected by the players.
Former Liverpool midfielder Dietmar Hamann expressed concern over Buvac's absence, saying: "A big part of Klopp's managerial style and his success is the close unity and togetherness of his coaching staff. So (this is) huge news and bad news for Liverpool."
Asked about a possible fallout between the pair, the German added: "It's hard for me to imagine that when you are about to go to a Champions League final. What can you fall out over?"
On a more positive note, striker Roberto Firmino has signed a new "long-term contract" with Liverpool. The club did not specify the precise length of the Brazilian's latest deal, but it was widely reported in the British media to be a five-year contract.
"It was an easy decision," he told Liverpool's website. "The club have taken me in in an incredible way and I've grown a lot here with my work with the support of the whole team. I am very, very happy here."
The 26-year-old joined Liverpool from German side Hoffenheim before the start of the 2015-16 season and has scored 50 goals in 140 appearances for the Reds.
The current campaign has been his best yet for the Merseyside club, with 27 goals in 50 games.
THE GUARDIAN, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE