Liverpool’s Squad Is Going To Have To Be At Its Best This Season

Long-term readers will know that I have absolutely no love for international football at the best of times. I understand why those from outside of Liverpool might simultaneously support the Reds and want England to do well, but for those of us from the city and surrounding areas things aren’t so simple. Even if you remove politics from things, and it’s very difficult to forget about Margaret Thatcher’s government wanting to undertake the ‘managed decline’ of Liverpool, you only need to look at how Scousers are treated by other football fans to quickly understand our dislike of the national team. For most Reds, it’s club football first, second and third. That being said, plenty of supporters were delighted for Andy Robertson last week when his Scotland team managed to qualify for Euro 2020. Most of us want Liverpool’s players to do well but, far more importantly, to come back to the club without an injury of any sort. Wishful thinking.

Having already lost Virgil van Dijk for the majority of the season thanks to England’s Jordan Pickford, all we wanted was for our other players to come back from this ludicrous international break without picking up similar issues. When news emerged of Joe Gomez picking up a bad injury during training, the vast majority of Liverpool supporters were ready to pack it all in. That Jordan Henderson has also since been added to that list just adds insult to literal injury. Add in Robertson picking up a knock and Mohamed Salah testing positive for Coronavirus and it’s pretty clear why many of us said that this international break was moronic, especially when you consider that most of the matches were friendlies and it came in the middle of a global pandemic. It’s not that the Reds are the only ones to suffer, it’s just that between Covid-19 and random injuries we have seemingly been punished in a more damaging way than most clubs so far this summer.

Not Buying In The Summer Was A Mistake

When the last transfer window was open, I was repeatedly banging the drum about Liverpool needing to sign a centre-back. My argument was that Joe Gomez had suffered a series of injuries through his career and was being played into the red zone in terms of number of games. On top of that, Joel Matip seemed to be injured every five minutes and we’d sold Dejan Lovren, further reducing the number of available defenders. My fear was that Virgil van Dijk couldn’t continue to play virtually every single match, though I didn’t predict a season-long injury heading his way. Instead of buying a new central defender, however, the manager and Michael Edwards chose to bring in another midfielder. The logic, of course, was that Thiago Alcantara had the ability to play all of the middle of the park but especially as a defensive midfielder, allowing Fabinho to drop back into the defence. The idea of him also being injured obviously wasn’t considered.

On the one hand, there’s a freakiness to the number and nature of the injuries that we’ve suffered. On the other, we all knew how condensed this season was going to be and how much strain that would put on the players. Muscle injuries were always going to happen and it was negligent of the transfer team not to bolster an area of weakness in terms of the defence. Yes the midfield was overstocked, but let’s not forget that none of Jordan Henderson, Naby Keita, Xherdan Shaqiri or Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain have had perfect injury records, to say nothing of Thiago also having a chequered past on that front. Obviously the hope was that sheer weight of numbers would see us through, but by asking the midfield to also cover the defence when necessary we were putting even more pressure on those players staying fit. We’re now seeing the result of that sort of approach, given that it doesn’t allow for any wiggle room whatsoever.

Games Are Now Being Played

The result of not making a move in the summer, when we could have done with a centre-back but weren’t desperate for one, is that we now need to play games because the situation has indeed become desperate. With neither Virgil van Dijk nor Joe Gomez available for most of the season and Joel Matip one big sneeze away from pulling a muscle, selling clubs will know that Liverpool are desperate for defensive reinforcements and will hike their prices. It means that the club has to play a game of its own and we’re now seeing the likes of David Ornstein release pieces that suggest that the club won’t buy a defender in January even if our results nose-dive. I don’t believe it for a second, instead being fairly convinced that the club is leaking the story in order to play down the idea that we’ll be desperate for a centre-back when the January window opens. We obviously will be, but it wouldn’t be the best negotiating tactic to let everyone know that.

We’re playing games in the transfer market but, more problematically, we’ll be literally playing football games once this idiotic international break is over. The need to use the squad and ask players to play positions that aren’t comfortable for them or to ask youth players to step up and replace some of the best players in the world isn’t an easy thing to get away with. Whether we’ll be able to pull it off will determine how well we perform in the Premier League and Champions League. So far this season there’s an extent to which we’ve ‘got away with it’, but I’m not sure that will keep happening. I expect many more freak results like the Aston Villa loss, not necessarily to us but to everyone. The sides that are able to come out of the most intense period with the fewest mad results and cope the best with injuries will almost certainly be the ones that are fighting for the title. Thankfully we’ve proven we can cope with adversity in the past, so let’s hope we do again.

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