It’s probably one of the most underrated traits in a footballer – availability. A player can have all the talent in the world – think Daniel Sturridge – but it’s no good to anyone if they spend the majority of their time in the physio room.
Sturridge is probably one of the finest finishers to have donned the famous red jersey since Robbie Fowler in the 90s. Yet, he’ll probably mostly be remembered for how much time he spent off the pitch rather than on it.
Liverpool’s scouting department has learned to buy strong. Under Michael Edwards’ leadership, The Reds’ data analysts are now able to predict with a certain degree of reliability which players are to be avoided, regardless of talent. To the same extent, they can pick out those who, for whatever reason, don’t seem to pick up any long-term injuries or recurring short-term problems.
In fact, Sturridge may well be the last player of note who Liverpool purchased who could be considered injury-prone. In his six-and-a-half years at Anfield, Sturridge was unavailable for 99 league games (all stats courtesy of transfermarkt.co.uk). That’s an average of over 15 Premier League games a year that he was unavailable for – or almost half a season, every season.
Compare that with Liverpool’s players from last season. Joe Gomez was the only first-team starter who suffered a serious injury – fracturing his lower left-leg at Burnley in December. Gomez was unavailable for 23 games after this.
Naby Keita was out for 11 games but this goes against everything we know about him from his days in Austria and the Bundesliga. As a rule, Keita generally does not miss much game time. Expect a lot more from the Guinean from August onwards.
Many players were fit to play all season. Andy Robertson, Fabinho, Gini Wijnaldum and Divock Origi were all available for the full campaign.
Fabinho was integrated into the squad late but he was never injured. Robertson was rested for two games while Wijnaldum was rotated within the midfield but neither player was injured at any stage.
Alisson and Virgil van Dijk – the two most important players in Liverpool’s defensive third – started every league game in 2018/19.
Looking through the rest of the squad, there were not many other injury concerns for Klopp and his backroom team to concern themselves with.
Jordan Henderson missed just four games. Trent Alexander-Arnold and Firmino both missed five. Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane were unavailable for only one game each.
It can’t be emphasised enough just how important the availability of Liverpool’s ‘spine’ was throughout 2018/19.
Now, while luck certainly played a part in it, as it always will in relation to injuries and the avoidance thereof, credit must go to Liverpool’s scouting department as well as the physios and coaches.
Liverpool has learned to buy strong and buy smart. And when those players are on the books, Klopp and his staff know just how far each individual can be pushed and what their potential maximum ‘load’ may be in terms of minutes in a season.
There will always be unavoidable occurrences like Gomez’s leg-break but, as a whole, Liverpool can operate to a higher level with such a small squad unit because the players at the club are fit and ready for action, almost all of the time.