IT has been well-documented in these pages and podcasts that Liverpool seem to be making a conscious effort to buy pace and goals, writes SIMON ALKIN. However, something else that appears evident from all of the club’s signings this summer is a preference for players that can stay fit and last a full season.
It’s no secret that the Reds had problems with injuries last term, but I’d argue it hasn’t been used often enough as mitigation for our eighth place finish in the league.
If you look through the squad from 2015-16, it’s notable how few seemed to come through the campaign staying largely healthy. Of the outfielders, only Nathaniel Clyne, Alberto Moreno, Adam Lallana and James Milner went largely injury-free and had very little time out. You could possibly add Roberto Firmino and Emre Can to that list, but even they each missed a few weeks early and late in the season respectively.
The rest of the squad was a patchwork throughout. Jordan Henderson and Daniel Sturridge each missed more than half the season, and often weren’t 100 per cent even when available. Danny Ings and Joe Gomez were absent for the vast majority of the campaign, both cruelly struck down as they seemed to be hitting their strides.
Christian Benteke had two separate month-long spells on the sidelines. Divock Origi missed several months in total, spread across multiple injuries. Philippe Coutinho had a couple of different muscle problems between November and February. And all this is before you even mention the mid-season centre back crisis that necessitated Steven Caulker’s emergency signing.
These were not insignificant losses, and the proof of it could be seen in the one period of the campaign when the Reds had a mostly fit squad to choose from: between mid-February (when Sturridge, Coutinho and Origi all returned) and mid-April, Liverpool picked up 19 points from eight league games (title-challenging form in 15-16), while knocking both Manchester United and Borussia Dortmund out of the Europa League.
It’s an admittedly small sample size, but it suggests that the Reds’ problem wasn’t necessarily a lack of quality, but rather an inability to consistently call upon their most dangerous players in a way that, say, Leicester or Spurs could.
With this in mind, it’s encouraging to see that the club’s summer signings seem to be, at least partly, a conscious effort to add durability to the squad and first XI.
All of Sadio Mané, Georgino Wijnaldum, Joel Matip, Ragnar Klavan and Loris Karius played over 30 league games last term, Wijnaldum in particular featuring in every single one of Newcastle’s 38 premier league fixtures. All except Matip (who suffered a broken foot two seasons ago) played at least 30 league games in 14-15 too.
Notwithstanding broken bones, which — like Karius’ unlucky hand injury — can happen at any time, these numbers appear to demonstrate that Liverpool are adding quality options who aren’t prone to picking up muscle injuries.
Now, contrast that with some names the club have either sold, or are reportedly trying to sell — Joe Allen, Benteke, Lazar Markovic and Mario Ballotelli — and it looks like the club is exchanging players likely to break down and miss games for those who have a better chance of lasting and contributing for a full campaign.
Not at all to play down the obvious importance of pace, goals and quality, but Leicester demonstrated last season that the ability to pick a consistent, settled first XI was as instrumental to their success as anything else.
If Liverpool are to have any hope of going where we dream they might and emulating the Foxes’ achievement, then keeping our players healthy and available is an absolute must. Here’s hoping these new boys aren’t just good, but good at staying fit, too.
Up the sturdy Reds.
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