WHEN Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp saw his captain, Jordan Henderson, walking off injured in England's game against Belgium last weekend, his heart must have sunk to depths unknown since his move to Anfield.
Before the international break, the German had been vocal in his criticism of match scheduling and the change in substitution rules that reverted to three subs rather than the five, which was the case during the first lockdown.
Henderson departed the game due to a 'tightness' in his leg, according to English manager Gareth Southgate and casts doubt on his availability for an already injury-ravaged Liverpool in their Premier League match against Leicester this Sunday.
This is the latest blow to the Premier League champions, as Henderson joins a growing list of injuries that have plagued their hopes of retaining the title this season. Talismanic defender, Virgil van Dijk is, arguably, the biggest blow. His ACL tear ruled him out for the rest of the season.
Then his centre-back companion Joe Gomez went out after an injury with the English camp that required surgery and puts the rest of his season in doubt. This was followed by full-back Trent Alexander Arnold withdrawing from the England camp with an injury prior to the international friendly against Ireland. While on the other side of the Liverpool backline, his mate Andy Robertson is now a doubt due to a hamstring issue picked up with Scotland.
In midfield, Liverpool are without Thiago Alcantara and long-term casualty Alex Oxlade Chamberlain both with knee injuries. And now Anfield fear that Fabinho will lose his race to recover from a hamstring injury picked up against Man City.
Earlier setbacks, most notably goalkeeper Alisson, from a shoulder injury, Konstantinos Tsimikas' thigh injury, and Joel Matip’s muscle strains have already cost Liverpool points this season.
Up-front, the Merseysiders are also set to be without Mohamed Salah on Sunday as he continues to self-isolate after testing positive for Covid-19 while on duty with Egypt.
The international duties of the Liverpool players have seen the pandemic take its toll on the players while outside of their Anfield/ Premier League bubble. Apart from Salah’s positive test, earlier, Sadio Mané and Alcantara have also contracted the virus while on international travels, and now there are reports that Firminho tested positive this week with Brazil. On the plus side, positive Covid-19 tests for Xherdan Shaqiri with Switzerland and Alisson with Brazil have proved to be false positives in follow-up tests. Yet they will undergo further tests on their return to England.
So concerned is Klopp by the level of absentees that he has been forced to draft-in an unprecedented eight young academy players to help bolster his depleted squad.
Of course, while not on the same scale as Liverpool, Leicester are also carrying their own injury worries. Keeper Kasper Schmeichel is a doubt between the sticks after picking up a head injury with Denmark. While Caglar Soyüncü and Daniel Amartey will not be fit for Sunday’s match, and fullback Timothy Castagne is also doubtful of a return.
And this injury trend is running across the entire league.
According to injury-tracking website premierinjuries.com, there have been 103 muscle injuries in the Premier League this season, a 16% jump after the same number of matchdays last season. This is of concern as we are not even into the traditional festive season fixture logjam yet. If this year even follows trends of previous years, we are likely to see a dramatic worsening of injury situation by the time January comes around.
According to premierinjuries.com's table of injuries, Wolves are faring the best with four injuries and Liverpool are worst with 10 injury concerns, followed by Man United on eight. On average, most sides are without six to seven players. One might say this balances out, but of course, not all players are created equal and some sides and players have a lot more fixtures than others.
For those players expected to play for their countries at the delayed Euro 2020 or the Copa America next summer, there are another eight months of football across a multitude of competitions ahead of them before they will get a rest, come the end of July. The problem is that this comes after an elongated 2019/20 season due to the pandemic that made the recovery time and pre-season impossible to complete before they returned for the 2020/21 season.
Certain things can't be helped due to circumstances. But the football authorities should have dumped the needless friendlies or postponed the Nations League this season. Klopp was right in his point that making teams that played mid-week play again early Saturday is crazy and dangerous. While the league voting to revert to three subs rather than having five for this season, clearly is a case of them shooting themselves in the foot. And potentially dangerous to player welfare.