While Liverpool's midfield has been a much-debated point this season, the news that Steven Gerrard is sidelined for six weeks with a hamstring injury is undoubtedly a huge blow for Brendan Rodgers' side.
The captain's absence will affect Liverpool, without any doubt—particularly his set-piece delivery that has been excellent this season. His presence on the pitch and in the dressing room will also be missed.
For Liverpool this season though, it's the latest in a long line of long-term injuries in the squad. Daniel Sturridge is out until the end of January, Jose Enrique underwent a knee operation that means he'll be missing until February, while Joe Allen, Glen Johnson, Iago Aspas and Philippe Coutinho have all had spells on the sidelines this season.
Injuries are, of course, part of football, and whether one could have been avoided is an endless debate. Great emphasis is now placed upon sports science and measuring players' fitness in order to predict when a player could be susceptible to injury.
According to PhysioRoom, "approximately one quarter to one third of all football injuries are due to overuse and develop over a period of time"—a hamstring strain being the most common injury in football due to the nature of the game involving short sprints.
Last season, we saw Gerrard play every minute of every Premier League game, up until the final of the last two games when he underwent shoulder surgery in order to return for pre-season.
It was a surprise that Gerrard was able to do so, and that he has been similarly used this season, at the age of 33, has been a surprise too.
Gerrard, along with Jordan Henderson and Simon Mignolet, has started every single Liverpool game this season, including two League Cup matches. Plus England matches.
Last month, Gerrard picked up a small injury in the defeat at Arsenal and was a doubt for the match with Fulham, something that could have been a blessing in disguise. Alas, Gerrard started against Fulham, and the opportunity to give him a much-needed rest was gone.
It's been a concern for some time, Rodgers often opting not to rest players when games are already won—see the 5-1 victory over Norwich last week. Why not rest the likes of Gerrard and Suarez when cruising at 3-0 and with a game three days later, going into the busy December fixtures?
That game saw Gerrard again play the full 90, and Suarez was replaced in stoppage time.
What if Suarez were to pick an overuse injury similarly? Iago Aspas didn't get a 20-minute cameo then, nor against West Ham. Yet he'd be the only forward available should Suarez be sidelined. Surely giving him some time in games that are won is a win-win situation, with the added bonus of maximising the potential of ensuring Suarez remains fit.
Injury prevention is no exact science, but removing the potential to pick up injuries can only help.
This is why, when games are won, the opportunity should have been taken.
When Rodgers named an incredibly strong side for the League Cup tie with Notts County back in August, the wisdom of such was questioned. Not only were three players injured in the game, Gerrard and Sturridge played 120 minutes, the latter of the two not being 100 percent fit.
Prior to that game, Rodgers had vowed to field a strong side, as per The Daily Express: "We will treat Notts County with the same respect as United. We want to do well in the cup competitions this year."
Admirable, yes. Potentially threatening what has to be the club's No. 1 objective this season—that of finishing inside the top four—yes.
Sturridge's injury, picked up in training, is not necessarily an "overuse" injury—but when the body is tired, it is more susceptible to injury. It's not a direct measure, but perhaps if Sturridge hadn't been playing for both club and country while carrying an injury for the majority of the season so far, he wouldn't have suffered the ankle injury that has him sidelined.
That League Cup tie with Notts County saw Rodgers start Sturridge, who played the full 120 minutes. A few days later, Liverpool played Manchester United, with Sturridge explaining, per The Telegraph, he was "already playing with injury prior to the international break, describing himself as ‘75 per cent fit’ and barely able to shoot."
Around that time, Rodgers was asked if he may loan out Fabio Borini, to which the boss told the official website:
Not at this moment in time. There would be a queue of clubs wanting to take him if he was available. We want to keep a strong group - it's a very long season for us. You've got Daniel, Fabio, Aspas and Luis to come in a number of weeks. We want to make sure the competition in the group is there, especially at the top end of the field where if you have a goalscorer it's always good to have.
A week later, Borini was loaned to Sunderland.
What made Rodgers change his mind? He was very correct with what he said; it is a long season and options in attack are required.
Now, Rodgers appears to have little faith in Aspas—who has so far rarely been used as a centre-forward—and only has Suarez.
Not all injuries can be avoided, but the long domestic and international campaign naturally takes its toll on players' bodies. Alex Ferguson used to give his key players one-week holidays to ensure they remained fresh, as explained in The Telegraph.
Rodgers has been playing with fire in his use of Gerrard in particular; now he's been burned. Overusing players, especially those in their 33rd year, means injuries go from being possible to inevitable.
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