By Kevin Koczwara
There is no substitute for depth in professional soccer. Skill can overcome some hard-ache, and hard-work can definitely make up for a lack of skill, but nothing can make up for a deep bench in the long grueling seasons of soccer. Many teams in the English Premier league are seeing some of their European aspirations heading to the training room instead of to the field, and some players are seeing their World Cup dreams shattered.
This year is different than most because players are training harder, playing harder, and have played more often in the past year or two than regularly. Why is? Simple, the World Cup is coming up and just about every player dreams of putting on their countries uniform and walking onto the grass of a World Cup Final. But they must show their worth in club matches and in international matches. And the wear and tear is showing.
Let’s look over a few teams and players that have been hit enormously by the injury bug, and let’s see who will definitely be sitting out the World Cup because of an injury.
Liverpool came so close to winning the EPL title last year that they could taste the trophy with their lips, but they eventually missed out because of a few too many draws. This year has been different, to say the least. The squad is fighting to stay in contention for a Champions League spot and the money that comes with it. The race is tight and can be won by any of the four teams currently vying for the spot. And Liverpool may have had the worst fortune of all the sides in the injury department.
Torres and Gerrard have both missed significant time on the treatment table, and at times have looked shell-shocked on the field as they try to fight through the pain. Neither has been in the they were in last season, and it has shown.
Gerrard still doesn’t look 100% fit, and it is showing in his play.He has carelessly turned the ball over in the attacking third more often than usual, and he hasn’t been barreling down the pitch quit the same way as he has in the past. England needs him to be 100% fit for the World Cup and his club needs him to help them stay afloat right now.
Torres may have scored a goal this past weekend against Blackburn, but there were times when we only saw glimpses of the Torres Liverpool fans know and love. He still isn’t match-fit and hasn’t been all season really. He is a fighter and plays through the pain more often than not, but when he does so it seems to hamper the Liverpool counter because he is one step slower than anticipated.
Currently Liverpool are fighting off the injury bug in their back-line. Liverpool’s run in the last 10 matches without a loss has been largely in part to the play of the back-line. The injuries could not come at a worse time.
The Injury to Martin Skrtel comes at a bad time for the Slovakia International. He has been playing great as of late, returning to the form that has seen him become the regular partner to Jamie Carragher in the middle of the Liverpool defense. He will be out 8 weeks due to a broken foot, and will have to hurry back if he hopes to make an impact for his country in the World Cup. He is as, if not more, important for Slovakia’s chances at making a run in the World Cup than for Liverpool and their chase for fourth. His recovery will be monitored very closely by both managers.
The other piece to the Liverpool back-line puzzle right now is the injury to Daniel Agger. Agger and Skrtel look to be a great pairing of the future for Liverpool, but the Denmark international just can’t stay off of the operation table. He has great class in the middle of the Liverpool defense and even gives them some attacking power coming from the center-defense with his heading ability and ball-striking skill. But he is injured again, leaving Rafa Benetiz to wonder what he will do Monday and next weekend if Glen Johnson isn’t fit to go.
With “The Greek,” Sotirios Kyrgiakos, returning, Benetiz has at least two proven center-backs in Kyrgiako and Carragher, but the squad is short on the right flank without Johnson. Johnson looks to be back in action soon, but for now Benetiz will have to either play the god-awful Philpp Degan or one of his youngsters, Martin Kelly or Stephen Darby. And on the left-side he has a short bench with the latest injury to Fabio Aurelio. For now Benetiz will have to be creative with his strategy, or he may have to dig into his youth system–which needs to start producing talent for the cash-strapped club.
The major story on the injury front for the Gunners right now has to be the horrific injury to Aaron Ramsey. What happened the the 19-year old prodigy is a tragedy, but the Gunners can’t dwell on it like they did two years ago when Eduardo went down with a similar, but more tragic injury. The Gunners need to recoup, get their heads and make their run for the title. (But is it time the league crack down on tackling?)
The major problem the Gunners have in the injury front is at the striker position. Without Robin van Persie Arsenal have been missing the pure striker who can put the ball in the box from anywhere on the field. They have plenty of attacking midfielders and small strikers, but none with the prowess and power of van Persie–who is working his way back from a serious injury he got on international duty with the Netherlands.
If Eduardo and Bendtner can score a few goals here and there, create chances for other players, and make space on the pitch for the likes of Arshavin and Cesc Fabregas, then Arsenal are in prime position to make a strong effort for some silverware come May.
The injury list has been long all season for Manchester United. The club has had to put out some makeshift back-lines this season with the injuries to Nemanja Vidic, Rio Ferdinand and John O’Shea. But now comes the really bad news, Ferdinand isn’t healthy yet and Johnny Evans didn’t play in the Northern Ireland friendly on Wednesday because of a knock he took during the Aston Villa game.
Anderson went missing during January and now he is injured for the rest of the season. He hadn’t been playing much, but with all the injuries and the aging players United has they needed him to fill in some games and reduce Paul Scholes and Darren Fletcher’s minutes. He may not be the most consistent midfielder, but he he can eat some tough minutes and when he plays well he is a quality midfielder.
Good thing Sir Alex is able to keep on older players with experience that can fill in the voids, without them his side would be down in the bottom of the table, rather than close to the top. But some of his stalwart veterans are now taking their fair of hits.
Ryan Giggs will be out for sometime with a broken arm. This is a huge blow for the Red Devils, believe it or not. Giggs is always reliable on the field and off it. He is the glue that solves all of United’s problems when they seem to be fraying at the edges during any match. Sir Alex has used his veteran sparingly to avoid this very problem, but now it is time he finds someone else who can fill the void.
And summer transfer window signing Michael Owen will now miss the rest of the season. Owen is kissing his small chance at a World Cup call-up goodbye with this latest injury that he picked up during the Carling Cup Final win against Aston Villa. Owen has been plagued by injuries since his move away from Liverpool years ago, and this is just another set-back in the 30-year-old’s career.
Some good news for Sir Alex will have to be the reported return of the forgotten Owen Hargreaves.
Chelsea have three huge injuries, good thing they have enormous amounts of depth. The biggest right now for the club has to be the injury of Petr Cech. Chelsea are not the same club defensively when they don’t have their ace in net. It showed during the Inter Milan game and during this weekend’s loss to Manchester City. At least 2 of the goals would have been stopped by Cech, but were missed by replacement Henrique Hilario.
Chelsea back-line has received bad word on both Ashley Cole and Jose Boswinga. And both players injuries will affect their chances to make their respective World Cup sizes.
Ashley Cole still has a chance to make England’s World Cup team because they have a similar problem to the United States at the left-back position. Carlo Ancelotti, manager of Chelsea, has the same problem has Fabio Capello, England coach, in the left-back position. In recent matches the Chelsea manager has been forced to play Flourent Malouda, an attacking wing player, at the left-back position to fill the void. If Cole can recover in time or ahead of schedule he can get back into match-fitness and help his club and country by supplying the left-back with both attacking skills and shutdown defensive tenacity. But a broken foot is no small injury and he may not be ready for the World Cup.
Jose Bosingwa will be out for the rest of the season and miss the World Cup. There is no doubt about it. And this hurts both Portugal and Chelsea. He is a solid right-back, he can shutdown any opposing attacking player and he has been a huge part of Chelsea’s success since his move from Porto in 2008.The advantage that Chelsea has int he right back place is they have some players that can fill in for the injured Bosingwa.
Michael Eissen is recovering from his injury and the 27-year-old looks to be on the right track back. The defensive midfielder is one of the best in the world when he is on the field. He has a tenacity that is unmatched. And when he is paired with a skilled passer like a Deco or Michael Ballack, he is able to roam just in front of the back-line and stop any opposition’s attack. His recovery is moving forward and he should be ready for the World Cup and to be on the pitch for Chelsea soon enough.
But there was a midweek injury during international friendlies for Ricardo Carvalho. Carvalho limped off the field during Portugal’s friendly with China on Wednesday. He is facing a let fitness test for the club’s match against Stoke, and Chelsea supporter’s have to be rooting that he is at least available on the bench in case Alex or Terry get hurt during the game.
Ledley King, Aaron Lennon, David Bentley, Tom Huddlestone, Jermain Jena, and Jermaine Defoe all look to return from injury soon for Tottenham.
Spurs are hurting in the attacking midfield with the injuries to Bentley and Aaron Lennon. If they hadn’t bought Niko Kranjcar to replace Luka Modric earlier this year, I would say that the Spurs were in huge trouble right now in the attacking midfield position. But they have Kranjcar and Modric (who returned earlier this year from injury) to fill the void until Bentley and Lennon get fit again.
Jena and Huddlestone are big loss in the midfield. They both can play in the middle alongside Wilson Palacios and back-up their Croatian counter-parts. If one or both players can make it back from injury soon, then Tottenham can be in the driving seat for the fourth spot and the Champions League birth.
They can win the fourth spot with their attacking power, even if Jermain Defoe is injured. They have so many options upfront with the inform Peter Crouch and the resurgent Roman Pavlyuchenko. With all of their attacking power they can even handle the injury to Ledley King.
Kevin Koczwara can be reached at email@example.com. Don’t forget to follow The Soccer Guys on twitter @TheSoccerGuys.