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Why Boxing Day postponement is both good and bad news for Liverpool

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Liverpool’s Boxing Day clash with Leeds has been postponed due to a lack of personnel for the visitors, which could have knock-on effects for the title contenders.

Following the euphoria of the comeback victory over Leicester in the League Cup, the Reds were looking to head into their festive games on a high.

Fighting from 3-1 down to win 5-4 on penalties was the perfect tonic after a strange start to the night at Anfield, in a game that stuck out horribly in the fixture list.

Up next, the visit of Leeds, who have won only five of their 21 games in all competitions this season, including three straight defeats to Chelsea, Man City and Arsenal over the past fortnight.

Though it is rarely so in the Premier League, it was set up to be a comfortable afternoon for the Reds.

LEEDS, ENGLAND - Sunday, September 12, 2021: Leeds United's manager Marcelo Bielsa during the FA Premier League match between Leeds United FC and Liverpool FC at Elland Road. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

However, five new COVID-19 cases among the Leeds first-team players and staff, coupled with injury issues for the likes of Kalvin Phillips, Patrick Bamford and Pascal Struijk, has led to the postponement of the fixture.

It is claimed that Leeds do not have enough players to fulfil the requirements, which stipulate one goalkeeper and 13 outfielders as sufficient.

The timing of Leeds‘ successful plea to the Premier League is, putting it lightly, convenient, particularly given there is no transparency when it comes to who has tested positive.

Though safety is paramount following a swift rise in cases due to the Omicron variant, for supporters, it sacrifices a Boxing Day tradition.

For Liverpool, meanwhile, it presents both good and bad news for the weeks ahead.

 

Bad news: Robbo out vs. Chelsea

LONDON, ENGLAND - Sunday, December 19, 2021: Liverpool's Andy Robertson is shown a red card and sent off by referee Paul Tierney during the FA Premier League match between Tottenham Hotspur FC and Liverpool FC at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

Firstly, removing the Leeds game from their fixture list – albeit temporarily – means Andy Robertson‘s three-match suspension will now include the trip to Chelsea on January 2.

The left-back was due to return for that all-important title clash, but now the onus is on Kostas Tsimikas to perform in his stead.

It is certainly not a nightmare situation, with Tsimikas proving himself a more-than-capable deputy for the Scot, but Robertson is arguably the world’s best left-back and prior to his red card at Tottenham was showcasing exactly why he is considered that.

Jurgen Klopp is now likely to call upon the services of 19-year-old Owen Beck as a regular squad member over Christmas, to ensure Tsimikas remains in peak shape throughout.

But while the postponement is a setback when it comes to Robertson, it could be a boost as Liverpool await the return of Virgil van Dijk, Fabinho and Curtis Jones.

 

Good news: Van Dijk, Fabinho & Jones back next game

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Saturday, November 27, 2021: Liverpool's Virgil van Dijk during the FA Premier League match between Liverpool FC and Southampton FC at Anfield. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

With the UK government cutting the mandatory isolation period after positive tests from 10 days to seven – provided lateral flow tests return negative and no symptoms are shown – the trio are due out of isolation on Christmas Eve.

Now Liverpool won’t be playing on Boxing Day, training can continue to allow Van Dijk, Fabinho and Jones further time to get back up to speed ahead of the clash at Leicester on December 28.

There is every chance, now, that Van Dijk and Fabinho can be recalled to the starting lineup, which eases the strain on Klopp’s centre-back and midfield ranks – with Thiago also due to return.

For Jones, too, it gives a better opportunity to make up for lost time after a difficult two months out with an eye injury and then COVID-19.

The biggest issue, however, is when Leeds‘ trip to Anfield will be rescheduled for.

 

Potentially bad news: Another game during AFCON?

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Wednesday, December 1, 2021: Liverpool's manager Jürgen Klopp during the pre-match warm-up before the FA Premier League match between Everton FC and Liverpool FC, the 239th Merseyside Derby, at Goodison Park. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

As it stands, the Premier League is set to take a winter break from January 24 to February 7, to allow players and staff much-needed downtime after the festive period.

Liverpool will play Crystal Palace on January 23, before taking two weeks off ahead of their return at home to Leicester on February 10.

But with the schedule even tighter due to the World Cup taking place midway through next season, there is every chance fixtures are pushed back to that free weekend of January 29/30 to ensure the calendar plays out.

If that is the case, that would not only deprive Klopp and his squad time to recharge, as intended, but would also see a clutch of key players unavailable for another game.

Mo Salah and Sadio Mane celebrate (Image: Action Images via Reuters/Lee Smith)

Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mane and Naby Keita are due to depart for the Africa Cup of Nations next month, with the tournament kicking off on January 9 and concluding on February 6.

Their participation already rules Salah, Mane and Keita out of both legs of the League Cup semi-final against Arsenal, along with the FA Cup third-round tie against Shrewsbury and Premier League clashes with Brentford and Palace.

Add the Leeds game into that period, and the trio could be absent for another crucial game as Liverpool fight for silverware on four fronts.

On top of that, delays in the international calendar last season mean nations in CONMEBOL and AFC will play World Cup qualifiers during the Premier League‘s winter break.

PORTO, PORTUGAL - Tuesday, September 28, 2021: Liverpool's Roberto Firmino celebrates after scoring the fifth goal, his second of the game, with team-mate Fabio Henrique Tavares 'Fabinho' (L) during the UEFA Champions League Group B Matchday 2 game between FC Porto and Liverpool FC at the Estádio do Dragão. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

That includes Brazil and Japan, meaning Roberto Firmino, Fabinho, Alisson and Takumi Minamino are already in action over the weekend slot that could be considered for the Leeds fixture.

Of course, Liverpool could make a similar argument to Leeds to avoid this issue, as they would be missing at least seven senior players, of which five are first-choice starters, during that period.

But things never seem to be straightforward when it comes to Klopp’s Reds, and all supporters can do now is keep faith and hope for the best.

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