Liverpool Protecting Suarez and Henderson From Themselves

Clive Mason

With Liverpool preparing for the final 12 games of the season, head of development Glen Driscoll talked about the individualised approach to training—and efforts to protect a few players from themselves—the club hopes will pay dividends.

With one of the thinnest, youngest squads competing for the top four, and even without the added challenge of European play, Liverpool have increasingly become a club focused on individualised fitness and training cycles in an attempt to keep what players they do have healthy. Coming towards the end of an injury crises that has only just begun to ease, it's clear there's still work to do, but for some the efforts appear to be paying off.

Some players, like Steven Gerrard, have had their training workload diminished drastically relative to their teammates as the club looks to ensure ageing and injury-prone players aren't exerting their energies between matches. And according to head of development Glen Driscoll, in the case of a few of club's more robust players, the job of Liverpool's coaching staff ends up being to protect players from their own work ethic.

"What [Jordan] Henderson and [Luis] Suarez have in common is we believe they are two players who need protecting from themselves," said Driscoll. "They would take the option of not recovering if we gave it to them and work every day between games. You have to admire their work ethic and desire but experience tells us if they did this, it would be detrimental to their performance and increase the risk of injury."

Few will be surprised that of all Liverpool's players, it is Henderson and Suarez that Driscoll chose to single out for their exceptional work ethic. Both have started every league match they've been eligible to play in this season, and even on the rare occasion one has appeared to tire, it hasn't stopped them trying to continue as though they were at 100%. It's easy to see both as players who would run themselves into the ground if given the chance.

It isn't just the fit players being given individualised training, whether of the kind meant to keep old legs fresh or the kind meant to keep the club's hardest workers from running themselves into the ground. The club's coaching staff also seeks to tailor training regimes for injured players that work around the injury in an attempt to give them the best chance to return more quickly to full match fitness even after a lengthy layoff.

"When injuries do happen, we take it as an opportunity to work on a player's fitness, strength, and injury prevention programme," Driscoll added. "So although [Daniel] Sturridge was out injured with his ankle, he was doing long days at Melwood working on his general strength and conditioning. This commitment to his rehabilitation enabled him to come back and hit the ground running as he did after both injuries."

Mid-season injuries brought on by a busy December shoed there are limits to what can be done in training and off the pitch, but for the most part Liverpool have been a more robust side under Rodgers, and much of that is down to the focus on individualised training. It hasn't led to a perfect fitness record, but then a perfect fitness record will never be the expectation, and many of Liverpool's more injury prone players have at least appeared improved.

The real test, though, will be over the final 12 games of the season, a time when thin squads often begin to suffer the effects of a long season. Whether Liverpool's thin squad can maintain its fitness and energy levels over the final stretch while others begin to fade will give the real answer to just how successful Driscoll and the club's coaching staff and sports science team have been.

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