As it stands right now, Joe Gomez’s injury cloud has only darkened – perhaps turning into a dreaded storm cloud should his spell on the sidelines span further than Liverpool’s tie against Bayern Munich in February – and Liverpool are still without an actual right-back.
All while still remaining firmly on top of the Premier League table.
If Liverpool wish to stay there, they may need a functioning defence. As it stands, they’re standing on a giant’s shoulders, a giant named Virgil van Dijk, but the ground beneath that giant’s feet is shaky at best.
“In all other parts of life, if somebody replaced everybody who is ill or had a broken leg only because they are out for four weeks, then the world would be an ugly place. So, in football, it’s like that because it’s only a game, but we take it very seriously.”
Klopp’s comments in an interview with the BBC reiterate one of the traits of the big inspiring German that is most revered – his affection towards players as people, not simply as assets to be moved around and used in a grand footballing scheme.
It’s perhaps what makes him most separate to someone like Jose Mourinho, who is playing football on a chess board, and constantly wants more expensive, shiny looking pieces. It’s also what perhaps ties him to Pep Guardiola the most – the idea that for everything to function as it should, people should consider more than just tactics. Footballers are humans, and humans require motivating.
With all that being said, however, there is a series of numbers that could well derail Liverpool’s crusade for their first Premier League title and first English title in 28 years.
Joe Gomez has missed a minimum of 50 days in each season he’s been at Liverpool due to injury. He has also missed the second most games of any prominent top-flight centre half (85), behind only Vincent Kompany, who has missed 99 and has been replaced already at Manchester City. He may well be the long-term partner for Virgil van Dijk, given how immense he was in the opening stages of the season, but he is severely injury prone.
Dejan Lovren has sustained the most individual injuries by a prominent centre half in the Premier League with 19 (per Simon Brundish of Anfield Index’s Under Pressure Podcast). He is also currently on the sidelines, leaving Liverpool to use either the equally fragile Joel Matip or the natural midfielder Fabinho alongside Virgil.
There’s also the fact (again, per Simon Brundish) that Liverpool have suffered the most injuries to their centre back regiment in the Premier League top six: that is, their centre-halves have been injured 33 times and have therefore missed 186 games as a result, the most out of any of their competitors.
Yes, the reason Liverpool currently sit atop the Premier League is because of Klopp and his uncompromising belief in his squad as players. He will find solutions, he always does. James Milner was the left-back in a side that finished top four, Roberto Firmino became a false nine and then Mo Salah became a mainstay number nine. Gini Wijnaldum became a water carrier and Trent-Alexander Arnold became one of Liverpool’s most influential players on the right.
But, with Alexander-Arnold currently also injured, Liverpool have had to make do with midfielders at right back for consecutive games now, therefore taking away from the midfield. All while foolishly sending a backup right-back on loan,
Of course, buying a fullback only to sit on the bench and do nothing when the team is at full strength is a waste of resources. And of course, Liverpool have bought one player in January under Jürgen Klopp that actually made a difference: Virgil van Dijk and that was only because Southampton were stubborn.
But when your defence is, at its core, unreliable in an almost systemic way, one can start questioning whether a new centre half would get more games than Klopp likes to admit. The Liverpool manager went into this season with three injury-prone centre-halves to complement his Dutch behemoth. That is on him, and perhaps it’s not actually that much of a travesty at first glance. After all, what are the chances of them all being injured at the same time?
Well, a short while ago, they were all injured at the same time. And Liverpool decided to not sign anyone in January to address that, despite all three centre-halves missing games in January.
Perhaps Liverpool will win the Premier League this season. But they’re certainly doing it the hard way.