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Why Liverpool’s recent injuries can HELP Reds in trophy push

“Having a rest is good,” admitted Jurgen Klopp when being asked about Andy Robertson‘s return to the Liverpool squad after missing 21 games due to a dislocated shoulder.

Prior to injury, suffered on international duty back in October, Robertson had been one of the most used players under Jurgen Klopp, clocking just shy of 4,000 minutes for club and country last season.

Speaking in 2020, Klopp had warned: “Robbo and Trent, let’s say, they cannot play every season 50-something games – it would limit their careers, to be honest.”

In the two seasons following that warning, Robertson appeared in 64 games for club and country in 2020/21 and 58 in 2021/22.

Aside from a four-game layoff with a knee issue last season, Robertson had only ever missed one Liverpool match due to injury.

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Thursday, October 5, 2023: Liverpool substitutes Joël Matip, Ben Doak, Joe Gomez and Andy Robertson during the UEFA Europa League Group E matchday 2 game between Liverpool FC and Union SG at Anfield. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

More than anything, the mental toll that being such a key player for club and country, in a relentless pursuit of trophies almost season on season, has to have an affect on players such as Robertson.

This enforced period on the sidelines, of course, isn’t ideal, but it has provided a mental reset and time out of the spotlight for three months – like releasing a pressure valve.

Robertson’s return, then, should see him fresher, mentally and physically, for the business end of the season, returning to the team at just the right time.

And he’s not the only one that can be the case for.

Klopp has been without 10 or more players for most of his fixtures in January, and chief among those who can perhaps see their recent injuries as having a silver lining are Robertson, Trent Alexander-Arnold and Dominik Szoboszlai.

 

Trio’s mental reset

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Saturday, August 27, 2022: Liverpool's Andy Robertson (L) and Trent Alexander-Arnold celebrate after the FA Premier League match between Liverpool FC and AFC Bournemouth at Anfield. Liverpool won 9-0. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

Like Robertson, Alexander-Arnold has been an ever-present for the past five seasons – only Mo Salah of the outfield players played more minutes for Liverpool last season.

In 2021/22, Alexander-Arnold clocked 4,230 minutes of playing time for Liverpool. “Trent is playing all the time, Robbo is playing all the time,” acknowledged Klopp in 2022. “That’s why we have to use them (other players) to bring fresh energy on the pitch.”

Szoboszlai, meanwhile, is similar to Robertson, captain of his country and rarely missing minutes for Hungary. Even in friendlies, he’s asked to play 90 minutes.

In Hungary’s last 12 matches, Szoboszlai has played 90 minutes in 10 of them, and missed only 17 minutes of action across 1,080 minutes.

2RWMFW7 Liverpool's Virgil van Dijk (left), Mohamed Salah, and Andrew Robertson (right) during a training session at the AXA Training Centre, Liverpool. Picture date: Wednesday September 20, 2023. (Alamy Images)

It was a similar story for Robertson who, prior to his shoulder injury, had played 90 minutes in all seven of Scotland’s previous seven fixtures, even when Scotland were 3-0 up against Cyprus after half an hour.

These players, with supreme fitness levels, are being overplayed. Where does their rest arrive if not for when they are injured?

Salah, the most invincible of Liverpool players, now faces at least three or four games on the sidelines, meaning he will have at least 270 minutes fewer in his legs when it comes to the business end of the season.

 

Europa benefits

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Wednesday, September 27, 2023: Liverpool's manager Jürgen Klopp prepares to bring on substitute Dominik Szoboszlai during the Football League Cup 3rd Round match between Liverpool FC and Leicester City FC at Anfield. Liverpool won 3-1. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

That Liverpool have coped so effectively while missing so many key players, is hugely impressive – and a lot can be pointed as being thanks to the Europa League.

The second-tier European competition has meant Klopp has been able utilise his full squad, therefore both keeping fringe players more involved and with rhythm, but also protecting key players by reducing their workload than if it had been Champions League games instead.

Klopp has, for example, averaged nine changes to his starting XI throughout the Europa League group stages, compared to the five across all other competitions.

And this is where this season can differ from two seasons ago.

Speaking pre-Norwich, Klopp acknowledged that “one of 500 reasons [for last season’s failings] was that we played four finals [competed in four competitions to the end of 2021/22].”

However, there is a difference between Champions League and Europa League intensity, and unlike two seasons ago, Klopp will perhaps have opportunity to rest and rotate his squad a little more in the Europa knockout rounds.

Of course, that depends on the quality of opposition, but Liverpool will fancy their chances of beating any side in the Europa League over two legs.

The bigger picture is that, while we can never know, these injuries to Robertson, Alexander-Arnold and Szoboszlai can actually have a net positive outcome for Liverpool, meaning a very key trio will be mentally refreshed ahead of a push for trophies on four fronts.

All that, and no mention of Thiago being like a new signing.