How will Liverpool’s defensive injuries impact season goals?

Nicholas Mendola
·7 min read

Liverpool has issued an update to the injury to Joe Gomez, and it isn’t good.

Gomez has undergone surgery on a knee tendon and will be out “a significant part of the remainder of the 2020-21 season.”

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Liverpool says successful surgery was performed Thursday morning and, as with teammate Virgil van Dijk, the club is not putting a timetable on his return other than the above statement.

Trent Alexander-Arnold is also hurt, while Fabinho has yet to return. Those are four key actors out ahead of 12 matches in six weeks.

So what’s in store for Liverpool on the competition front, and what will Liverpool do in its bid to win a second-straight Premier League title and advance deep into the Champions League again?

What will Liverpool do here?

Van Dijk is out for the season, Gomez much of it, and Fabinho is also out. Joel Matip is back but has battled injuries for a couple of seasons now and the Reds have a lot of matches ahead of them starting with a visit from Leicester City on Nov. 21.

Jurgen Klopp is a managerial and psychological genius but his center back corps has been decimated ahead of 12 matches in 42 days, a run which includes three Champions League game and nine Premier League affairs.

It’s also worth noting that this is a depth issue. While Gomez has status as an England international, he was the Reds’ fourth-best center back behind Van Dijk, Matip, and Dejan Lovren last season in just about every metric (Lovren is now with Zenit-Saint Petersburg).

  • Joel Matip — He won’t be able to play every game, but there’s a reason Liverpool signed him to a new five-year deal early last season.

  • Fabinho — He’ll be back soon enough. A small hamstring tear will take some TLC and he won’t be able to play every week, but he’ll be back. Fabinho and Matip can be a winning pair at center back.

  • Nathaniel Phillips — The 23-year-old played plenty on loan to Stuttgart last season in a promotion campaign for the Germans.

  • Rhys Williams — At 19, the big center back was on the field for zero goals conceded in wins over Midtjylland and Atalanta in the UCL and a 0-0 with Arsenal in the League Cup that ended with the Reds falling in penalty kicks. Oddly enough given those opponents, the only goals conceded on his watch this season were against Lincoln City in a 7-2 League Cup win.

  • Jordan Henderson — Despite plenty of growth in attack, the best part of the defensive midfielder’s game lies in that modifier. He’s also good with long balls and could use his vision well from the back.

  • James Milner — The veteran has played everywhere aside from forward, goalkeeper, and center back during his time with the Reds.

  • Sepp van den Berg — The 18-year-old is with the PL2 side but was hailed around Liverpool as a big capture when he was acquired from PEC Zwolle last year.

Honestly, Henderson and Milner both seem likely to be drawn into duty at some point, especially if Fabinho needs time off upon his return.

Joel Matip injury
(Photo credit should read OLI SCARFF/AFP via Getty Images)

Champions League state of affairs

The silver lining comes in Liverpool’s 3-0 record through three UCL group stage games and two of three remaining matches (Atalanta and Ajax) at Anfield.

On average, one team has collected nine or more points in a group and failed to advance to the knockout rounds.

  • Last year, Ajax’s 10 points weren’t enough to make it but that was down to Lille taking a single point to allow Valencia and Chelsea to take 11 each.

  • The previous year, Napoli’s nine lost out on a tiebreaker to Liverpool for goals scored.

  • In 2017-18, it was CSKA Moscow with nine and a third-place spot because Benfica went 0-6.

  • Copenhagen missed by two points in 2016-17 when Club Brugge went 0-6.

  • Olympiacos’ nine-point run finished behind Bayern Munich and Arsenal in 2015-16 and Atletco Madrid and Juventus in 2014-15.

The Reds would have to go 0-3 in their final three matches — two of those coming at Anfield and the other against 0-3 Midtjylland — while Ajax and Atalanta beat Midtjylland. In the likeliest of unlikely scenarios, if Liverpool picks up even one point from Midtjylland, it would hold a tiebreaker advantage on Atalanta unless the Italians beat them by six at Anfield or by five without Liverpool scoring.

What about the Premier League?

Liverpool will certainly be buying someone in January. They really should be able to get there with PL title hopes still in tact.

Six of Liverpool’s nine opponents by the end of the Festive Fixture slate on Jan. 2 are bottom half in expected goals scored. Five are in the bottom seven of expected goals conceded and another five are bottom half in expected points.

Of the two top teams left on the docket, Leicester City has also been hit by big injuries (though Wesley Fofana’s quick adaptation has been a blessing) and Tottenham will be in the middle of four matches in 10 days with Leicester quickly following the Liverpool test.

Oddly enough, Brighton between Atalanta and Ajax might be the real banana skin!

Nov. 21 v Leicester City (1)
Nov. 28 at Brighton (16)
Dec. 5 v Wolves (9)
Dec. 12 at Fulham (17)
Dec. 16 v Spurs (2)
Dec. 19 at Palace (8)
Dec. 26 v West Brom (18)
Dec. 28 at Newcastle (13)
Jan. 2 at Southampton (4)

Joe Gomez injury
(Photo by Andrew Powell/Liverpool FC via Getty Images)

Prognosis

The Reds’ firepower will drive it into the Champions League knockout rounds, even if it takes a win at Midtjylland on the last day.

That same depth of attack can be accompanied by youthful vigor coached by Klopp to expect

Klopp’s worst nine-match stretches in a single season of his Premier League career are… not terrible.

Four of the six were in his first three seasons in charge. The only two since the massive spend on Virgil van Dijk, Alisson Becker, Naby Keita, and Fabinho over two transfers windows happened when:

A) The Reds were settled into third behind record-setting Man City and focused on reaching the 2017-18 UCL Final

B) Liverpool’s perfect season was ruined by Watford on Leap Day and the season was interrupted by a pandemic.

Jurgen Klopp’s worst nine-match runs as Liverpool boss

Oct. 17 – Dec. 20, 2015 – 4W-2D-3L (first 9 matches with club)

Dec. 20, 2015 – Feb. 6, 2016 –3W-2D-4L

Jan. 2 – March 12, 2017 – 3W-3D-3L

Aug. 12 – Oct. 22, 2017 – 3W-4D-2L

March 10 – May 13, 2018 – 4W-3D-2L

Feb. 29 – July 2020 – 4W-2D-3L

Let’s say he matches the worst run in his PL career and collects just 11 points between next Saturday and Jan. 2 with two of the losses coming against Spurs and Leicester City.

Liverpool will have 28 points through 17 games. Any team performing at Leicester’s current league-best rate of 2.25 points-per-game would take 20 points. That maxes Leicester out at 38 points, Spurs 37 (they play each other as mentioned above).

Even if you don’t buy those two as title contenders, let’s say Man City puts together a remarkable run of 2.5 ppg despite 13 total matches, the league slate including trips to Tottenham, Man United, Everton, and Chelsea. City would have 34 or 35 points with a match-in-hand.

Again, this is if Klopp matches his worst 9-game return as Liverpool boss and if Pep Guardiola returns City to juggernaut form.

What this injury run means is simply that it’s unlikely Liverpool — or anyone — can run away with the league this season, at least by the end of the Festive Fixtures. We predict that Klopp will focus on the PL in most cases and produce 18 points over nine matches (We’re being different calling five wins, draws with Brighton, Wolves, and Saints, and a loss to Spurs).

That’s 35 points through 17 matches. If Man City went 9-0 in that span they’d have 39 with a match-in-hand. If Leicester or Villa did the same, they’d have 45. The title defense would still be alive.

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How will Liverpool’s defensive injuries impact season goals? originally appeared on NBCSports.com