Jürgen Klopp confirmed what we likely already knew: that the back line is heavily hit ahead of the game against Leicester, with Virgil Van Dijk, Joe Gomez, and Trent Alexander-Arnold definitely not fit for the weekend’s match. As this is written, it’s unclear whether Thiago and Fabinho will be fit enough to feature, with both players all the more crucial as now Jordan Henderson has been ruled out as well.
That’s a lot of injured players concentrated in close proximity on the pitch, and Liverpool lining up against the team narrowly leading the league. Leicester City’s Jamie Vardy is the joint-top scorer thus far in the season, with eight goals (though a whopping five of the eight are from the penalty spot). Liverpool’s own joint-top scorer, Mohamed Salah, is sidelined with a positive COVID-19 swab.
It’s been a rough international break for fans.
Many of us nervously watched Nations League and other qualifiers (and friendlies), possibly hoping to see Scotland, for instance, qualify for a major tournament and then go on to improve their Nations League standing, but not just that. What we were really hoping to see was Andy Robertson ideally getting a rest but definitely not getting injured (that one was touch and go).
Elsewhere, while it was lovely to be reminded of all that Gini Wijnaldum is capable of in the freer role he plays for the Netherlands (and hey, if we continue getting decimated, Gini up front for Liverpool might well be in the cards at some point), my word he’s put in a lot of minutes as one of our few remaining fit midfielders.
It’s...a lot of stress. International football can bring a lot of joy and frankly a bit of fun for fans accustomed to club football, but these qualifiers were likely more “injury watch” than “wow, good for North Macedonia” for Reds fans.
And now we return to the Premier League, with a squad that could be quite good in the circumstances (a Fabinho-Matip pairing with Thiago in the midfield seems quite tasty!) but could also be a bit less so (Fabinho and Thiago have just returned to training, after all). And that’s just this game: we have quite a few to go before the transfer window opens.
How in the world are we meant to mentally prepare for the rest of this season?
Well, speaking ahead of the Leicester match, Klopp urges us to have heart. While he acknowledges that so many serious injuries in one area of the pitch is “tricky,” he refuses to make excuses.
“Nobody here feels at all any kind of self-pity or whatever; we don’t feel sorry for ourselves. It is the situation and in the moment when you get the information then it’s a moment when it hits you, but a minute later you are already in the solution process.”
He promises that he will be able to field eleven players (a comment that definitely brings us back to earth if we managed to think it’s “not that bad”), and, crucially, points out that in this squad any eleven players he picks will fight to win three points.
Fans’ heads are all over the map on this one. Many of us started the season feeling the Reds were league title favorites, a view only cemented further as Manchester City started the season poorly.
Even without Virgil Van Dijk, you had to think Liverpool had a solid shot: while it’s impossible to overstate the Dutchman’s importance, even without him Liverpool have arguably one of the best squads in the league, and they tend to perform best when fighting against the odds (CC: Barcelona, Anfield, 2018/19).
Is that still true now, given the further injuries? I think it is, even if we’re living on a knife edge at the moment.
See, other teams will be hit by injuries as well. This season doesn’t get easier — it’s not like this is the holiday period and it eases up after this. We’ve had bad luck (well, we’ve been on the receiving end of a couple horror tackles, and had some bad luck), but teams with thinner squads will also be hit with injury as the season progresses, and the starting run we’ve had has not been easy.
Everton’s drop off in the league following injury and suspension to key players might well be indicative of what lies ahead for many sides. It’s probably Manchester City’s poor start is directly tied to their lack of attacking players fit and available (though they’re an odd case). Leicester and Liverpool are the two teams heavily hit by defensive injuries who have continued to perform, but with that said, Leicester have not yet lost their talisman in Jamie Vardy.
It’s quite possible that the injury gods will sideline every team’s best player at points this season. Who will have the squad depth and the wherewithal to handle that?
The 2020/21 season might well become one where the winner is best suited to combat continued adversity. Despite the challenges, I think that might well be us.
Klopp agrees. Mentality monsters and that, aren’t we?