Liverpool’s fitness issues have been a topic of great angst around these parts. And it is no stretch to consider that the thinness in various positions that has caused various players to be deputized to fill a need on the pitch is a significant factor in the seemingly disjointed play over the past two matches.
Liverpool, having failed to fully capitalize on stumbles from their rivals in this year’s title race, now find themselves in second place via tie breakers to defending champions, Manchester City. The Reds do have a game in hand, of course, so all is not lost. But that makes earning the full three points as the Reds host AFC Bournemouth a top priority.
Midweek, Liverpool fans received the good news that the injured trio of Trent Alexander-Arnold, Jordan Henderson, and Georginio Wijnaldum all participated in full training in the lead up to this match. TAA’s inclusion is particularly important because his absence - and the absence of a capable back up with Nathaniel Clyne having joined Bournemouth in the winter transfer window - has played a significant role in contributing to the shaky performances through the team. Last week, James Milner was skinned repeatedly by Felipe Anderson and one must wonder at how much more balanced the play would have been with Trent providing a more comfortable attacking outlet option on the the wing.
Still, it’s unlikely that the young star will be brought back into the fold so quickly after a long layoff. Jurgen Klopp’s own comments during the pre-match press conference indicate as much:
“Trent trained yesterday for the first time and didn’t mention any issues or any problems. After four weeks for a first session, we need to see what we do there.”
This is a sensible if slightly anxiety-inducing comment from the manager. Patience is needed to ensure that TAA isn’t rushed back into the fold, but there is certainly a hope and desire for Liverpool to pick up maximum points and put maximum distance between them and Manchester City.
Klopp was similarly cagey when discussing Gini Wijnaldum and Jordan Henderson, who were late scratches in the match against West Ham due to knocks picked up during training. The gaffer would only indicate that both would be game time decisions based on the nature of their injuries. What seems clear is that Klopp is looking to manage injuries so as to ensure that all players are available and healthy for the return of the Champions League on February 19th, where the Reds will host German giants Bayern Munich.
Given that the club will have a mini break in the action following this match before seeing Bayern, Manchester United, Watford, and Everton in the span of 13 days, this sense of caution is appropriate. That’s a Champions League tie and both derbys inside of a fortnight and it will necessarily require as full a squad as possible for Klopp to rotate through.
This may mean, then, that we have one more match with a deputized right back and a bit of a toss up in midfield. Cue anxiety.
With Bournemouth having their own share of injury struggles, though, Liverpool should have enough to see this one through. Then it’s just a matter of getting these three players and Dejan Lovren - the only confirmed scratch besides longtime injured players Joe Gomez and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain - back on the pitch in time to for the big slew of matches in late February to early March. This year, I suppose, we’ve got to be aware before the Ides of March.