LONDON • Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp is hopeful his young centre-backs can step up in the absence of senior teammates, as the Premier League champions cope with an injury crisis.
Defenders Virgil van Dijk and Joe Gomez will both miss the majority of the campaign after undergoing knee operations, meaning Joel Matip and Fabinho will be the Reds’ first-choice pairing until the January transfer window opens.
However, given the fixture crunch brought about by the coronavirus pandemic, neither player will play every game.
Reserve Nathaniel Phillips, 23, and academy graduate Rhys Williams, 19, will not only provide cover but are also expected to feature in both top-flight games and in the Champions League.
Both will likely be on the bench in today’s home game against leaders Leicester as Klopp wrestles with whether to name Fabinho in his starting line-up. The Brazilian, who has not played since picking up an injury on Oct 27, returned to training last week.
Klopp will also be missing key players like captain Jordan Henderson, Thiago Alcantara, Trent Alexander-Arnold and Mohamed Salah, who tested positive for the coronavirus and is in quarantine.
With Jamie Vardy, the Premier League’s joint-top scorer on eight goals, spearheading Leicester’s attack against a weakened backline, Klopp admitted it would be “a challenge to defend him” today.
However, the German insisted his available players were not feeling sorry for themselves.
Ahead of the Foxes’ visit to Anfield, he called their opponents “contenders for everything”, but added: “We are a unit and the more problems we have, the closer we stick together.
“We don’t go for excuses, we have the situation we have, we don’t like the injuries we have because it is really hard for the boys who have the injuries, but the rest are working on solutions.
“Maybe we think we have the worst situation possible, but the season is long. We have only played eight games, so there will be a lot of problems.
“If somebody thinks we will give up just before the game just because some of our best players – our very, very important players – are not available in the moment for a long, long time, then I cannot help them.”
Leicester manager Brendan Rodgers said his former side remain a formidable force. He added: “They’ve got top class players. We’ve seen it ourselves with our injuries that the players have come in and done really well and that’ll be the same for them.
“Even with players missing it’s still a squad of world-class players. You’re going to have to be aggressive when you’re defending and clinical in attack.
“You want to play the best and they have clearly been that.”
Klopp noted he found himself in a similar situation at his former club Borussia Dortmund, when Neven Subotic and Mats Hummels were thrown into the deep end, only to gain the experience to form the bedrock of his defensive line in two title-winning seasons.
But, with January coming in under six weeks, Klopp hinted he would consider dipping into the transfer market for reinforcements, even though he is prepared to field some of his midfielders in a makeshift defensive role if push comes to shove.
“I don’t know what we can do in January, to be honest. I have no idea,” he said. “That we look for solutions, look at the transfer market, that is clear of course.
“But at the moment, we have the situation we have. We have midfielders, not in the moment but hopefully in a couple of weeks, who can play the more defensive role as well.”
LIVERPOOL V LEICESTER
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