In the wake of another frustrating international break injury – this time to Adam Lallana – Jack Hallows looks at Liverpool’s recent injury record, how it’s affected the club’s recent seasons and why Jürgen Klopp needs to think long and hard ahead of the summer about the players he brings in.
204. That’s how many separate injury issues Liverpool have had since the start of the 2009/10 season. That’s an average of 25 individual injuries per campaign, meaning that the Reds generally suffer an injury issue once every 135 minutes of Premier League football. That’s absolutely remarkable – and for all the wrong reasons.
Lack of continuity amongst lineups
When aiming to win the Premier League title, a manager needs to be sure that his best XI is going to be able to feature in near enough every single one of the 38 league games his side plays in a season.
If you’re Jürgen Klopp, you’d be likely hoping to field your best lineup in, at the very least, 32-33 of the total Premier League fixtures your team plays with a little rotation room to allow for injury niggles, the odd red card and to manoeuvre around fixture congestion. For Liverpool, that’s just simply not been the case so far.
Of course, there’ve been other factors – AFCON caused all sorts of problems with Jöel Matip and Sadio Mané – but injuries have hugely disrupted the Reds in recent years and not only hindered their progress but ruined entire seasons.
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The Reds have already sustained 30 separate injury problems to 21 different players this season alone and we’ve only played 29 Premier League fixtures. Add to that the fact that the injuries have generally been to important players in important positions – Dejan Lovren, Jöel Matip, Jordan Henderson and Philippe Coutinho have all missed sizeable chunks of the season through injury – and it’s a wonder how we’re actually in the position we’re in right now.
Potential to derail a season
We all know the Daniel Sturridge saga very, very well by this point and it’s sadly a perfect example of injuries derailing seasons for Liverpool. Brendan Rodgers’ Liverpool team in 2014/15 was originally built around the Englishman in a 4-2-3-1 system that saw him leading the line while being flanked by Raheem Sterling and Philippe Coutinho. Adam Lallana slotted into the number 10 role and Jordan Henderson and Steven Gerrard were played in the centre of the midfield. Things looked good in August for that season honestly as the Reds beat Southampton at home and strolled to a 3-0 victory over Spurs at White Hart Lane. Then things went entirely tits up.
Sturridge went down on international duty with the first of 7 injuries he’d sustain that season, forcing him to miss a total of 6 months of football across the season while Adam Lallana continually seemed to be stuck in a cycle of play a month, miss a month. With Rodgers having to constantly chop and change his line up, repeatedly wedging Mario Balotelli in up front despite protests from everyone including Mario himself, it’s my belief that we honestly did well to finish in the Europa League spots.
Last season and this season have been very much the same. Jordan Henderson’s injury last season saw the skipper’s form nosedive as he struggled to hit 100%, causing an imbalance in the Reds midfield, while constant injury issues with all of Mamadou Sakho, Martin Skrtel and Dejan Lovren saw Klopp struggle to maintain any consistency in his centre back pairings – a trend that’s continued this season. Klopp was even quoted as calling the word hamstring the “shit word of the season” after the Reds sustained an incredible 9 hamstring injuries across November, December and January, putting out 9 different players for a combined 15 and a half months.
The Reds had a fortunate start to this season in fairness. The opening few months of the season saw them blow away teams week after week with very little serious injury worries to first team regulars. In fact, up until Coutinho’s injury in November, no first team player had missed more than two weeks of fixtures with Adam Lallana’s injury against Swansea the most severe. Since Coutinho went down clutching his ankle in agony against Sunderland however, the Reds have suffered 18 injuries and a subsequent nose dive in overall form across a horror start to the calendar year. Injuries to key first team regulars Matip, Lovren, Sturridge, Firmino, Henderson, Lallana and Emre Can have caused a huge imbalance in the side and Klopp has struggled immensely to name what’s become recognised as his first choice line up.
In fact, prior to Coutinho’s long-term injury, the Reds played 13 league games (including the Sunderland match) and lost just once – to Burnley. They’d scored an incredible 32 goals and taken 30 points, sitting top of the pile. Since Coutinho’s injury, however, they’ve not just lost players but dropped off in terms of both goals scored and points taken per match. 16 League games have seen the Reds score 29 goals and take 26 points. It’s not been a disastrous drop-off when looked at in those terms but in the bigger picture, it’s allowed Chelsea to move not only ahead of Liverpool on the table but 13 points clear of them with a game in hand.
Something to think about
For me, this is something to think about this summer for Liverpool. Whether it’s luck, a better quality of fitness staff or just higher levels of robustness in their players – it’s no surprise that league leaders Chelsea have suffered very minimal injury problems this year with the same being said about Leicester during last season’s miracle.
Both Ranieri last season and Antonio Conte this season managed to settle on a consistent lineup and field it in all but a select handful of games. This continuity is what wins you the league and Klopp surely must have that in his mind this summer. With Klopp’s intense style of training and football there’s always going to be injuries – we’ve had 54 since he arrived – but the fact that Liverpool have had 20+ injuries every season bar one since the 2000/10 season is alarming and perhaps says more about the type of players we buy than anything.
This summer, the German needs to look for players who will give you 33 league games a season minimum while also being able to feature in a European campaign and important cup ties.
It’s no good selling on the likes of Daniel Sturridge only to attempt to strengthen the squad with similarly injury-prone and brittle-boned players. When the likes of Alexandre Lacazette are touted by the media as targets it becomes excited and not simply for the goals he scores. The Frenchman has scored hatfuls of goals sure but most importantly he’s done it while turning out in over 37 games over each and every one of the last 5 seasons and has featured 36 times so far this campaign for Lyon. It’s that consistency, steel and ability to avoid niggling problems that is needed immensely by the Reds.
Similarly, when it comes to the defence, Klopp will need to have a long hard think about who he looks to bring in with Dejan Lovren, Jöel Matip and Ragnar Klavan having missed a combined five months of football through injury. If Klopp is going to shore things up at the back, then consistency has to be a priority.
Communication and understanding is so vital in a centre-back partnership and Liverpool need to bring in a strong, robust defender who will be able to feature constantly across next season, rather than having to chop and change every two or three games.
Of course, injuries become less of a problem when you have a sufficient amount of quality squad depth at your disposal but with the Reds likely to be fighting on four fronts next season – the league, EFL Cup, FA Cup and European football of some kind – Klopp will need to do everything he can to minimise injury problems. We’ve seen through other Premier League clubs like Arsenal as a prime example how much of a season’s potential can be wasted and derailed by a poorly timed injury crisis and Liverpool must avoid that next season.