Siao Mates Nov 20

Injury-hit Liverpool are still too strong for their title-chasing rivals


 

You might be forgiven for thinking that Liverpool’s spanking new training ground – the £50 million (S$89m) AXA Centre at Kirby – is a medical facility, considering the injury list of the English Premier League (EPL) Champions.

 

Football fans who do not support Liverpool, particularly those of bitter rivals Manchester United, must now be hoping that the Merseyside giants will lose a game or two, or at least drop a couple of points here, there and everywhere while some of their best players recuperate in their expensive recovery rooms. Even Liverpool fans are beginning to doubt this current squad’s ability to defend a title they finally claimed after an epic 30-year wait.

 

But how bad is it at Liverpool, really? Are their title hopes in peril because of the casualties they’ve suffered?

 

Let’s look at that sick list.

 

WATCH: Jurgen Klopp has a message for the people of Liverpool

 

Their talisman in central defence, Virgil van Dijk, should be out for more than six months after undergoing an operation to correct the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) injury suffered during the Merseyside derby when he clashed with England and Everton goalkeeper Jordan Pickford. By the time the Dutchman returns to action, Liverpool may already have lost the title.

 

Central defender Joe Gomez is another casualty – he was injured in the knee during training last week while on international duty for England. Poor Gomez. He must be allergic to the England jersey: this is the third major injury he has sustained as an international player – he suffered an ACL injury in 2015 while representing England’s Under-21 side and had an ankle injury in March 2018. Still only 23 years old, Gomez has had a successful operation on his knee but will be out of action for at least half a year. 

 

Trent Alexander-Arnold was substituted after just over an hour of action at the Etihad Stadium when Liverpool were held to a draw by Manchester City. The calf injury which led to his withdrawal will rule the England international out of action for another month.

 

Fabinho’s last match for Liverpool was against Danish side FC Midtjylland. The Brazilian had a hamstring injury and has missed his country’s international matches. He has not fully recovered and will probably miss this weekend’s top-of-the-table clash with Leicester City at Anfield, but should be back in action in a week’s time. His recovery would be an important boost to Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp’s defensive options as the midfielder has shown his ability as a central defender against Ajax in the Champions League.

 

WATCH: Klopp backs Fabinho to play in the centre of defence

 

Thiago Alcantara should return to the Liverpool squad soon. The Spaniard who played in Bayern Munich’s victorious Champions League side was another casualty in the Merseyside rugby match, receiving a knee injury from a tackle by Richarlison, which led to a red card for the Everton forward. Thiago played on and completed the match after the foul, even managing to supply a superb pass to Sadio Mane who crossed to Jordan Henderson to score what many Liverpool fans considered a last-minute winner which was unfortunately disallowed by VAR.

 

Egyptian king Mo Salah will remain mummified in isolation for another two weeks after testing positive for Covid-19 while on international duty. With Diogo Jota in excellent form, the main concern for Klopp now is that his top striker doesn’t infect his teammates.

 

That leaves Jordan Henderson, who had a leg injury while on England duty, and Andy Robertson, who was supposedly injured but showed up for a full 90 minutes for Scotland against Israel. Robbo’s injury may have been overplayed, but Henderson will undergo a fitness test to assess his readiness for the match against Leicester.

 

So, there you go – Liverpool’s woes are centred on their defence, and mainly in their centre. The crucial loss to the Reds would be Van Dijk’s absence, but they’ve been able to deal with this in their last six games in all competitions, winning five and drawing one – away to Manchester City, and with three clean sheets. 

 

Somehow, I don’t believe the injuries to Liverpool will affect their title defence very much. Klopp has the best resources to deal with such a crisis, but more than that, it is the strength of the opposition – or the lack thereof – that should work in his favour.

 

Who can stop Liverpool? Manchester City? Pep Guardiola’s side were able only to get a point against the depleted champions at home. And City are looking terribly frail, dropping points away to West Ham and newly-promoted Leeds United, and having their posterior owned at home to Leicester City when they were thrashed 5-2. Guardiola seems to have lost his mojo and Manchester City no longer look like the near-invincible team they were in the two campaigns before last season.

 

WATCH: Pep Guardiola's incredible journey as Man City manager

 

How about Leicester City, the side that showed so much promise at the start of last season that Football Siao was banking on them to keep Liverpool honest? They’re table-toppers now, but I doubt they possess the stamina to finish the season within the top three. They could, however, give Liverpool a difficult day on Monday morning (SGT), but that will in all probability be their only meaningful contribution to the title chase this season.

 

I’d love to see Tottenham do well. I’d love to see them win a league title within my lifetime, for the sake of their many long-suffering fans, who have had their feelings cheated so many times. They are at their stylish best now under Jose Mourinho, but could they win the title they last won when dinosaurs roamed the earth? I seriously doubt it. Spurs are the handsome boyfriend you love with all your heart but will cheat on you when you least expect it, and I expect it won’t be any different this season. Just ask my buddy Edwin Yeo, who lost a strand of hair each time Spurs broke his heart.

 

I’d like to talk about Arsenal’s chances, but in deference to my young friend and Gunners’ fan Noah Tan, I’ll pipe down and allow him to fill you in there. They were so full of promise at the start of this season, but...I’ll let Noah say the rest.

 

The side that has impressed me so far this season are Chelsea. If they can overcome their addiction for high-scoring draws, they could be a force, especially now that they have replaced the world’s most expensive butterfingers Kepa Arrizabalaga with a real goalkeeper in Edouard Mendy. I hope they do well this season. I suspect they’ll be the team that chases Liverpool all the way to the end.

 

At this point, and at the risk of incurring the wrath of their loyal, fanatical supporters, I’d like to discuss Manchester United’s chances.

 

They managed to finish third last season, albeit a distant 33 points behind the Premier League champions. However, they’ve struggled since the tail end of last season and are a shadow of the great team that dominated the Premier League in its first two decades. 

 

Will Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and his men be able to raise themselves from their current 14th position to give Klopp and Co a fight? No. Not this season. The Liverpool women’s team would probably steal a point off the Red Devils, if they played in the same league. And Liverpool Women are currently playing in the second tier of the English FA Women’s Super League. Today’s Manchester United side are not title-winning material. Maybe next season, or maybe if Liverpool fan’s favourite United manager goes.

 

As it stands, I find it hard to imagine Liverpool not defending their title successfully, despite their injury woes. And it will remain only a temporary situation, with the possibility of reinforcements coming in six weeks when the transfer window opens, by which time Klopp will have adapted with currently available resources. The Reds will be dethroned eventually, but as Liverpool fans have uttered every season for 30 years before the last: Next season. And only maybe. 

 

With the way they are playing, and despite their injury woes and the early-season glitch when they were given a 7-2 spanking away to Aston Villa, I’m not going to put any money on Liverpool not being Premier League champions at the end of May 2021.

 

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