Jurgen Klopp says Liverpool changed “many things” this season due to a fear of injuries, although the plans could not prevent the defensive crisis the champions now face.
The Reds have been without almost every member of their title-winning team at one time or another early in the Premier League campaign, while some key men face long-term lay-offs.
Virgil van Dijk and Joe Gomez will not return until late in the season at the earliest and Klopp is scratching around for defensive options for Sunday’s game against Leicester City.
Right-back Trent Alexander-Arnold is out and there were also concerns this week about the fitness of left-back Andy Robertson.
Liverpool’s first-choice back four have started just three league games together this term, winning twice, having been in the same XI on 16 occasions in 2019-20, enjoying 14 victories.
Klopp had anticipated problems and cited a change to Alexander-Arnold’s role as one tweak, with the England international now attempting fewer crosses from open play – 4.9 per 90 minutes, down from 6.7 last season. He has consequently created 0.9 chances per 90 from open play, down from 1.3.
But the Reds manager could do little to protect Gomez, who played 590 minutes in the league prior to his injury – comfortably more than any other centre-back – due to Van Dijk’s setback.
“We thought about it, so we changed many things because of the season for us,” Klopp explained.
“You might have seen Trent’s role was a different one in the games he played; it was not up and down the wing constantly, it was more in different spaces. That was a little hint of that.
“For a centre-half, there was no chance. Would Joe have played seven games in a row if we had other solutions? No. But we didn’t have them, so that’s unlucky for all of us and especially for Joe, obviously.
“We change constantly this thought process and we really have to think how we can use the players in the right way, because our target is always long-term, never short-term.
“Yes, we have short-term targets as well, but the main targets are long term.
“We need them. Without the players, we are nothing – and that’s why we are really careful, or as careful as we can be.”
— Liverpool FC (@LFC) November 19, 2020
It is this caution that means Klopp is reluctant to rush Thiago Alcantara back into the fold.
Fabinho is back in team training – a boost as Jordan Henderson is now injured – but Thiago continues to work alone as he recovers from the bruising sustained to his knee in the Merseyside derby last month, the same match in which Van Dijk went down.
Thiago has played only 135 minutes in the Premier League, in which time he has played 161 passes.
“It’s the consequence of the injury. It was a hit, a straight hit on the knee,” Klopp said.
“I cannot change these things. We have to deal with the consequences of these injuries, these accidents, these fouls in this game. They were fouls in this game.
“If he could have played before, he would have played before. That’s why he hasn’t. But he’s out there on the pitch, he’s running, doing a lot of stuff, so it will not be too long anymore.
“On the same day we got the horrible pictures from Virgil and then we were kind of relieved that it’s not that serious for Thiago, but it was not going to be two or three days.
“In the first few days, we thought that it would settle quickly but it didn’t. That’s what we have to accept.
“We will not rush him. We’re preparing him for the rest of the season, not for the first game he can play again. That’s the situation.”