Liverpool’s run of three games in five days over the festive week was never going to be easy, but it is now further compounded by the absence of four players due to Covid.
Virgil van Dijk, Fabinho and Curtis Jones tested positive last Thursday, while Thiago tested positive on Saturday. Each is now isolating at home and has to do so for 10 days, though apparently are not showing symptoms.
Liverpool face Leicester City in the League Cup on Wednesday night, then Leeds United on Boxing Day, and Leicester again in the league on December 28.
That turnaround between Boxing Day and December 28 is something manager Jurgen Klopp has often spoken out against in the past regardless of the Covid situation, and the Premier League’s decision not to postpone that round of fixtures will no doubt have irked him further.
“The quality of the game goes down the more fatigue there is," explained Reds’ assistant Pepijn Lijnders on Tuesday. "A Premier League player needs 72 hours to recover."
Adding to Liverpool’s issues is the unavailability of Van Dijk and Fabinho for the first two games, and while they theoretically will be ‘available’ for the game at Leicester on December 28, Lijnders has warned that that’s not likely.
“People underestimate when it’s 10 days’ quarantine, they think they can play immediately on day 11, but football doesn’t work like this,” the Dutchman said.
Therefore, we can assume that the quartet of Van Dijk, Fabinho, Jones and Thiago are all out of these three games.
Thankfully, Liverpool have captain Jordan Henderson back from an illness - but are without Divock Origi and Nat Phillips, both of whom would’ve been certain to start in the League Cup quarter-final.
Adding further issues is Andy Robertson’s red card at Tottenham, meaning he’s suspended for all three. You would have expected he and Kostas Tsimikas to have started one each of the Premier League fixtures, but now Tsimikas will be required for both of those, therefore meaning youngster Owen Beck could be utilised in the Cup tie.
With all that in mind, it’s an extremely delicate balance for Liverpool. Further positive Covid tests would seriously impact them.
So how might Klopp line up his side for these three games? We’ve attempted to take a look at balancing the players out across them here:
Liverpool possible XI vs Leicester, Carabao Cup, December 22
Liverpool possible XI vs Leeds, Premier League, December 26
Liverpool possible XI vs Leicester, Premier League, December 28
The League Cup tie would see a debut for academy centre-back Jarell Quansah, who was on the bench against Spurs, as Liverpool really need to keep Ibrahima Konate and Joel Matip available.
It would also have fellow teenagers Owen Beck, Tyler Morton and Kaide Gordon in the lineup. Roberto Firmino would get his first start since returning from injury.
It would mean seven players starting the two league games on the 26th and 28th. Klopp could opt to bring in Neco Williams for Alexander-Arnold, but that would massively hinder the Reds’ style of play.
Typically, Matip - given his injury record - would never be considered for two games in two days, but this is the situation Liverpool find themselves in. It’s a similar case for Naby Keita and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, so they are likely to start one of the league games each.
What Klopp will be hoping is that his side can enjoy a comfortable win against Leeds on Boxing Day, allowing them to drop the intensity and ‘rest within the game’ - something he has previously said about Mo Salah and Sadio Mane. That would also allow for an early sub for players like Alexander-Arnold and Henderson to try to save them ahead of the trip to Leicester.
What’s a shame is that the quality of football fans will be served up this Christmas will be below the quality it could have been if the Premier League and the club’s CEOs looked beyond their chequebooks.
“The experts are the scientists and doctors,” said Lijnders on Tuesday. “The Premier League should ask them, not the CEOs, not the managers.
“If there’s one common behaviour in this pandemic in the last two years, is that we always acted too late, and that’s why we went from one health crisis into the other.”
Much like Klopp in recent weeks, Lijnders has said it better than any government official or health expert in the UK in the last two years. It’s a shame they won’t listen and nor will the Premier League.
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