I was sat fairly close to the incident with Didier Ndong that left Phil clearly in a considerable amount of pain. I thought as soon as it happened he may have broken a bone in his foot – I was on the receiving end of a similar tackle in my youth. Promptly stretchered off, we all feared the worst and waited with bated breath over the results of his scan on the following Monday. 5 weeks was the outcome due to damage to the ankle ligaments. Could have been better but also could have been quite a lot worse. Everyone has been saying it is a big loss and will derail our campaign. Let me tell you why this injury could actually be a blessing in disguise.
Phil has been in great form this season. 17 games for club and country have yielded 9 goals and 5 assists and countless former players saying he is good enough to play in the current Barcelona team. A little insulting really; Phil would become the third former Red to become a central figure for Barcelona following in the footsteps of Mascherano and, of course, Suarez. Why Phil should choose to stay and resist the overtures of Barcelona is best saved for another day.
So why am I saying it could be a blessing having one of the stars of the Premier League unavailable for 5 weeks? Firstly, the schedule over the next few weeks is relatively kind. Phil will miss a League Cup game with Leeds, a road trip to mid table Bournemouth, a home game against a very out of sorts West Ham, away to Middlesbrough who have only won 2 all season, away to those over the park, home to Stoke just after Christmas and then City on New Year’s Eve. The fixtures do get tougher towards the end of his spell out the side but we should hopefully have adapted to life without him by that point. You never know, he may have an outside chance of featuring against City if his recovery goes well. Even with Phil out of the team, I still don’t expect us to drop more than 6 points in that period. Had he been missing at the start of the campaign, we may be keeping Man Utd company in the middle of the table. We are fortunate that he is missing games that we should still be winning without our Little Magician.
Secondly, and for me the primary reason, is that I really believe in this group of players that Jurgen Norbert Klopp has assembled. We are still a couple of players short, I admit, but I have total faith that a couple of reinforcements will arrive in January and kick us on again. This injury will give some of the current fringe players a chance to stake a claim for a regular spot in the most exciting team in the Premier League. We are always hearing about the frustration of being sat on the bench which sometimes just feels like rhetoric. Time for some of these lads to step up.
I really hope this injury sees the emergence of Divock Origi again. At the end of last season, he was absolutely on fire. He couldn’t stop scoring until Funes Mori decided to stamp on him. He has got two in two over the past week so things are looking promising. I love Origi. He worked very hard last season to work on his physique and ended up going up a shirt size and gaining 5 kilos in weight as he added some muscle to what is a relatively slight frame. It has really helped him to deal with anything defenders can throw at him. He is over 6ft tall, frighteningly quick, fantastic in the air, doesn’t mind chasing defenders and is strong as anything. He is a fantastic athlete and has all the qualities he needs to succeed. In fact, he reminds me a little of Stan Collymore. Before he started spending his evenings on Cannock Chase, Stan had it all. A lot of his former teammates thought he could have gone on to be one of the greats but didn’t necessarily commit himself to the game as he should have. From Klopp’s comments, we don’t need to have the same concerns with Big Div.
“He is still 21 and he hasn’t had the most match time in the last few months so then he had no rhythm but he is always working, never moaning.”
I would love to see Divock Origi in the team on a more regular basis. If as much for his ability as for the pockets of chanting which I pray catch on – “Divock’s on fire, your defence is terrified”.
Who else do we have? We currently have three slots in the midfield with four players who can all slot in. It looks like it is Hendo plus two of Gini Wijnaldum, Emre Can and Adam Lallana. I don’t like seeing any of those miss out as they are all doing well this season even if they aren’t ripping up trees. Of those four, Gini is my option to take out of the midfield and move further forward. He has been quiet yet efficient since joining. I would be interested to see how he reacted to having the shackles removed somewhat and have the freedom to attack. After all, when he signed, he was a number 10 for Newcastle and a man who scored four in one game last season.
There are others too. Daniel Sturridge, if he can stay fit, is another one who can come in. A good run of games for a month or so may allow him to find a little bit of rhythm and start hitting the net on a more regular basis. He is a talented boy but just can’t seem to keep himself fit. Even so, if he is fit to play, I wouldn’t be too worried about us not having a potent strike force. His goal record is mightily impressive.
Dare I mention some of the younger lads? Ovie Ejaria and Ben Woodburn have both earned Klopp’s trust to be given an opportunity in the EFL Cup this season. These boys play with no fear. They play the same way for the first team as they would in the U23’s which is great to see. Are they ready for the rigours of the Premier League week in week out? I don’t know the answer to that. What I do know is they give us options.
I guess that is my point. We have options. It is not all doom and gloom with Phil injured but more of a gift wrapped opportunity for others to step in to the breach and not let the train derail through a period in the season where we should be kicking on and consolidating our position at the top of the pile. Whoever comes in will inevitably have big shoes to fill but I have faith. It may be that we look back on this part of the season as the time that built the character of the group, where they had to start battling for each other that little bit more and grind out results which had otherwise come easy this season. Only time will tell but I am going to be optimistic. Rest up, Phil, see you in the New Year.