Liverpool injuries and how Klopp is dealing with no Van Dijk
Losing players to injury at the top level of football is part and parcel of a manager's job, but the 2020/21 Premier League season is proving particularly challenging for Jürgen Klopp.
The 2020/21 Premier League season has suggested from the start that it could be a tight race for the title. And given the runaway nature of Liverpool's triumph in the last campaign - and the belief by many that The Reds and Manchester City would continue their dominance at the top of the English top flight - there could be several more clubs in the mix by the time we reach March/April.
Premier League injury variables
The likes of Tottenham Hotspur and Chelsea have impressed for much of the early exchanges, while Everton, Manchester United and Leicester have shown glimpses of being able to hold their own when it coounts. Even sides expected by some commentators to struggle, look at Southampton, West Ham and Aston Villa as examples, have shone at times, and have collected as many points as the so-called 'big boys'.
As always though, consistency for all 38 games is what is key to lifting the famous trophy, and often this can be severly hampered by the loss of players to injury. And this has been a hot topic in the early months of this campaign, one that has put a spotlight on Liverpool boss Jürgen Klopp, but most other managers have bemoaned their own side's fitness issues too.
Injuries: how the 'Big Six' have fared
Going into Week 12, Liverpool sat joint top of the Premier League with José Mourinho's Spurs. They were behind by a goal difference of five, although some may look at that crazy Sunday at the start of October when there was a 10-goal swing in favour of the north London club and wonder why it is not more.
That aside, eybrows have been raised at how the Merseyside club have managed to continue to pick up so many points as player after player drops out of contention through injury. But has it really been any worse than their perceived main title rivals? For the answer to this, we turn to our friends at www.sofascore.com.
As can be seen from the graphic above, the Anfield medical team have indeed been rather busy, and Klopp has had to juggle his team more than Guardiola, Mourinho, Solskjaer, Lampard and Arteta. And there is no doubt that some of those that have missing for Liverpool have been key players: Virgil van Dijk and Alisson seen as key factors to The Reds going from also-rans to league champions. The numbers don't even show the latest loss, with hot new signing Diogo Jota expected to be out till February.
The average 18.7% of games missed from first team squad members at Anfield contrasts significantly with the 5.1%, 6.6% and 9.7% that United, Spurs and Chelsea have had to deal with thus far. City have also had their problems, but to nowhere near the same extent, while Arsenal may be able to point to one reason for their disappointing start.
It's no wonder that pundits have posed the question over how each of these sides would fare if they begin to lose players that are seen as critical to their success as Liverpool have.
With and without Van Dijk
And that question about surviving the loss of a key player has also taken much of the discussion on television and radio shows with regards to Virgil van Dijk. Or at least it did initially.
After Jordan Pickford had clattered through the Dutchman during the Merseyside derby mid-October, it quickly became apparent that one of the world's best central defenders was likely to be out for the majority of the season. With that, said many, went Klopp's chance to retain the title that he had brought to the club after a 30-year wait. For those less pessimistic about the impact, it was at least going to level the playing field after their title stroll last year, but then other injuries compounded the fears.
It hasn't exactly turned out that way though. Of course, it is still relatively early days but Klopp's small changes in tactics, along with the club's policy in recent years to have a consistent approach to playing throughout their youth teams, has seen Liverpool continue to perform at a more than adequate level.
More points have been won without Van Dijk, fewer goals have been conceded, and the opposition has not created a greater number of 'big chances' since he's been gone. Does that mean they would be better to keep him out of action when he returns? Of course not.
Van Dijk is an incredible talent and changes the whole dynamic of the play, not to mention freeing one of his stand-ins Fabinho to return to the midfield. But by adapting the style - it's notable that clearances have almost doubled in his absence - and by bringing in others who know the role they have to play and that of those around them, Klopp has managed to cope.
Whether or not this continues, is a matter of time, but Liverpool appear to be proving Aristotle right: 'the whole is something besides the parts... there is a cause.'