“When we started the 4-4-2, we had two more strikers available. It was only 10 days ago.”
Liverpool’s midfield injury crisis is clearing up with long-term absentee Arthur Melo now the only one of Jurgen Klopp’s 10 senior midfielders not in training. Yet after losing Luis Diaz and Diogo Jota to serious injuries of their own in the past two weeks, the Reds are now feeling the pinch in the final third.
Without the pair, Mohamed Salah, Roberto Firmino and Darwin Nunez are the only senior options on offer to Klopp, though youngsters Harvey Elliott and Fabio Carvalho are growing increasingly relied on. From boasting seven senior international forwards for the second half of last season, the German is arguably just one more injury away from a full-on attacking crisis.
Such an injury nearly fell during Liverpool’s win over West Ham United too as Nunez was withdrawn as a precaution with a hamstring complaint. Klopp said after the game they caught the issue in time, but later confirmed the Uruguayan underwent treatment on Thursday and is being assessed ahead of the Reds deciding if he is fit to face Nottingham Forest or not.
Should the striker miss out, Liverpool are at least covered down the middle thanks to Salah and Firmino. Meanwhile, Elliott is an alternative to the Egyptian on the right-hand side. But after losing both Diaz and Jota to injury, it’s a very different story on the left.
Fabio Carvalho is the only available player left to have started for the Reds on the left flank this season. Yet the 20-year-old is still very inexperienced in the English top-flight, boasting just six Premier League starts, with the lack of alternatives far from ideal.
And that’s even without considering his favoured position is through the middle, with Transfermarkt suggesting only four of his professional career appearances to date have actually come on the left for either the Fulham or Liverpool first teams.
Now back in training, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, who hasn’t played competitively since the Reds’ last trip to Nottingham Forest back in March, could perhaps be a more experienced option as he steps up his own return from a hamstring injury suffered in pre-season. Yet the England international is expected to leave Anfield on a Bosman transfer when his contract expires next summer and, with all due respect, historically has not been a player you can rely on to stay injury-free.
Meanwhile, with the promise of being utilised in midfield rather than out wide one of the reasons behind his move to Liverpool from Arsenal back in 2017 in the first place, only 17 of his 133 appearances for the Reds have actually come on the left, with a late substitute appearance in a 4-1 victory over Aston Villa in January 2021 his last outing in the role according to Transfermarkt.
Yet Klopp could have just hinted who he actually intends to turn to in order to fill such a role in the weeks ahead following Curtis Jones’ own return from injury. The England Under-21 international made his first appearance since the Community Shield when coming off the bench in the midweek victory over West Ham United, with his manager delighted to have him back in contention.
“It’s perfect to have him back,” Klopp said at his pre-match press conference ahead of facing Nottingham Forest. “He’s an exceptional player, an exceptional talent. In whichever system we can play, he can play different positions which is very helpful.
“We just brought him in after a long time without playing regularly. You could see there was still space for improvement but that’s normal. It’s perfect having him back and, hopefully from now, having him back will be very helpful for us.”
On paper, the returns of Oxlade-Chamberlain and Jones could perhaps be seen as more beneficial to ensuring Liverpool’s midfield injury crisis is firmly behind them. Yet Klopp’s comments about the 21-year-old being capable of playing different roles in different systems is particularly intriguing.
We were given a glimpse of that fact against the Hammers as Jones was introduced on the left wing for the final 33 minutes. According to Transfermarkt, that outing was only the seventh time he had filled such a position for Klopp’s first team.
But despite a lack of senior experience in the role, the midfielder made it his own when coming through the Reds’ youth ranks and impressing enough to earn his promotion to the senior setup in the first place.
Regularly played on the left of the front three for the Under-23s in Premier League 2 and the Under-19s in the UEFA Youth League, Transfermarkt credits him with 26 appearances in the role in 2018/19 and 2019/20, with him captaining Liverpool’s youngsters in the latter.
From those games, he recorded an impressive 17 goals and seven assists. Meanwhile, even when not playing there for the first team, he has still demonstrated his eye for goal and creativity in the final third with eight goals and nine assists to his name.
Obviously it would be a big ask for Jones to immediately step up and replicate such returns in the Premier League and Champions League, even without considering the fact he’s only just back from long-term injury and hasn’t played the role consistently for two and a half seasons.
But by bringing Jones on there against West Ham and from Klopp’s recent pre-match quotes, it would seem that turning to the 21-year-old on the flanks is now a prospect he is seriously considering in the absence of Diaz and Jota.