Just when Liverpool’s injury woes looked to have hit new highs, the club were boosted by two returning stars this week.
Fabinho and Joel Matip are nearing a return to full fitness, providing Jürgen Klopp with much needed reinforcements.
James Milner was the latest player on the treatment table after suffering a muscle injury in 1-0 win over Everton.
This, even with the return of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, left Liverpool looking pretty sparse in midfield as well as at centre back.Embed from Getty Images
So the return of two players who’ve been key to Liverpool’s success this season is a welcome boost.
Here’s three reasons why their returns, and the timing of it, are so important for the Reds.
1. The obvious – the long injury list
The blindingly obvious benefit of having these two lynchpins back is the extent of Liverpool’s injury crisis.
Keita, Milner and Lovren remained side-lined, but Xherdan Shaqiri has returned to bolster Klopp’s options.
The amount of minutes the squad played over December has been massive, and this brings with it the risk of further injuries.Embed from Getty Images
With Klopp having to resort to youngsters in the FA Cup, having big names returning is great news.
Especially considering the positions they play.
Liverpool’s style demands a lot of the central three midfielders in terms of pressing, attacking and tracking back.
Henderson, Milner and Wijnaldum have all put in some serious shifts of late, so Fabinho’s return will be a relief.
Another injury while Ox was also out would’ve seen Lallana be relied upon even more so, and besides him there were few others.Embed from Getty Images
And then at centre back, Matip and Lovren’s absence left only van Dijk and Gomez as our fit options.
All Liverpool fans dread the day when van Dijk picks up a knock, but this would’ve been the worst timing for that.
So to have Fabinho and Matip back really does add an extra layer of quality and resilience to the squad.
2. Run of fixtures in January
Although December and the business that comes with it is over, Liverpool’s January fixtures still look tough.
The Reds face away trips to Spurs, West Ham and Wolves and home game against bitter rivals Manchester United.
While their form this season has been imperious, these next four games could be crucial.
The trips to Spurs and Wolves, on paper, look like the sternest tasks.Embed from Getty Images
Mourinho will set his side up to frustrate and limit the space for Liverpool to play in and hit us on the counter.
Think what you want about The Special One, he knows how to make teams hard to beat.
Even without the injured Harry Kane, Spurs will pose a significant threat with Son, Lucas, Dele and Eriksen.
Wolves, too, will be a handful as they were on their recent visit to Anfield.
Nuno’s men felt aggrieved to be leaving empty handed in a game marred by VAR controversies.
They certainly provided a test for Liverpool, but the Reds still found a way to beat them and get the job done.Embed from Getty Images
It’ll likely be a similar story at Molineux, with Liverpool’s unbeaten record likely to be given a serious examination.
And when we look at games against United, even in their current state, anything could happen.
Fabinho, more so than Matip, will be crucial in this period.
His nastiness and tenacity in the middle of the park will be needed to snuff out the dangers they pose.
Not only this, his influence going forward will also be a benefit Liverpool as they will likely look to spring fast counters.
Matip will likely be used as a rotation option in these fixtures to rest players like van Dijk or Gomez.
Again, these two have played a lot of minutes recently, so a breather here and there wouldn’t go a miss.
3. Who wouldn’t want these two in their squad?Embed from Getty Images
More importantly than anything, how good will it be to finally have these two back?
Matip has been missing for months now, and it was getting risky when Lovren too got injured.
He was phenomenal last season and instrumental in Liverpool’s Champions League success and push for the title.
Fabinho also grew into his role in the midfield after a rocky start and made himself one of the first names on the team sheet.
The two were influential for Klopp and he will be ecstatic to welcome them back into the fray.
However, if they both think they will walk back into the team, they will be sorely mistaken.