(Cover Photo: Getty Images)
Examining how best to handle the season in the face of Liverpool’s unprecedented injury crisis
As the Premier League season heads into the holiday fixtures, the busiest time of the campaign, and realistically the make or break period for teams with any aspirations of accomplishing the goals set for them in pre-season, champions Liverpool effectively enter this crunch stretch with one hand tied behind their back.
The Reds have been decimated with injuries throughout the season, and coupled with positive Covid 19 cases, have been without anything resembling a fully fit side since both Thiago Alcantara and Virgil van Dijk were injured against Everton in mid-October.
Jurgen Klopp has been left to bemoan many things throughout the campaign, but more often than not, the focus of his ire has been the change back to three substitutes from five when the Premier League returned in June.
“We need it. For the players, not the clubs. December and January in a normal season are brutal. We know that. But this year, for the Champions League and Europa League clubs, October is like December. November is like December. December is still December, then January, then February.”
He’s had his critics about the topic, resulting in much scrutiny from both the media and his fellow managers alike. Scathingly from Chris Wilder and slightly less so from Jose Mourinho. But remains adamant that the two extra subs would make a difference in helping keep players fit.
Still, there are positives to be taken. The mentality of this group of players, however in constant fluctuation, remains unmatched. The Reds sit in second place in the table despite no less than 16 injury or COVID-related absences this season. This pivotal point in the season seems like the perfect time to break down what’s transpired so far and seek to find a way forward.
The injury crisis has meant that Jurgen Klopp has had to rely on backup players to get over the line. Some of these have been established players, but there have also been opportunities for Academy starlets. Most notably Curtis Jones and Neco Williams building on their debut appearances last season and working toward becoming reliable options. The boss has had nothing but good things to say about the lads he’s given opportunities to.
“Neco played really well. Curtis (Jones) played like he has for 10 years for us. Without them, we would have been lost without these boys. Thank god it worked out. The biggest part is that they are ready for it.”
While others such as Ciaomhin Kelleher, Nat Phillips, Rhys Williams, and Leighton Clarkson have played a part, ultimately the takeaway is that Klopp can assess who of his talented younger contingent will be part of his plans going forward. Even from a player’s perspective, if they don’t make the grade at Liverpool, more chances to show their quality mean the possibility of getting more opportunities elsewhere.
The move to Kirkby’s AXA training centre, where Liverpool’s youth teams and first-team have been integrated, will certainly be a big help in this regard. Klopp is very happy with the youngsters he has at his disposal:
“….You need the right players, kids to come in. What Neco Williams did in the Champions League so far was exceptional, Phillips in Premier League, sensational.”
Klopp has never been a stranger to giving youngsters a chance. He launched the careers of players like Mario Götze, Mats Hummels, and Robert Lewandowski while at Dortmund.
The players who have begun their careers under his tutelage have since gone on to achieve great things, and for a team that prides itself on its Academy graduates, while the circumstances aren’t great, the increased chances for the youngsters have made Reds fans very optimistic for the future.
The crisis may get worse before it gets better. Thiago is out until at least the new year, and having picked up knocks against Midtjylland, his fellow new signings Diogo Jota and Kostas Tsimikas are in the same boat.
Add to that the fact that Virgil van Dijk and Joe Gomez are currently suffering from long term injuries and the continued effects COVID will have on the world, and panic begins to set in whenever a player in a red shirt stays down for more than a few seconds. New signings have been linked in January for problem areas, but for now, Liverpool must make do with what they have.
Jurgen Klopp understands this better than anyone, saying:
“We have talent here. They are young – 18, 19, 23 – and we have more experienced players, so we will see. Everybody has a chance.
“They can smell the chance and they step up. They want to show they are ready and we will see.”
Liverpool are going to drop points. While the mentality of the side has never been in question during Klopp’s tenure, especially within the last three seasons, the absence of so many key players has and will no doubt continue to be felt.
The expectations at the start of the year were sky high, and rightly so. However, there comes a time when those expectations must be tempered in the face of situations outside of their control.
It remains to be seen where the season will take Jurgen Klopp’s Reds. And things will be better once players begin to return from their layoffs. But before then, fans must remain patient.