Liverpool’s injury list has grown at an alarming rate this season, to the point where even the club doctor has been doing interviews, and the recent derby win for the Reds was a perfect illustration of how much misfortune they’ve had on that front. By half time three players had gone off injured and one more was left on the field only because there were no more subs left.
Rafael Benitez saw most of what was left of his squad leave for international duty over Easter, and probably had his scouts at the Tsunami benefit game in case any of the celebrities or legends could be signed for the Reds.
Now though there are signs that Liverpool’s luck has started to turn.
First of all the international fixtures maybe came as a blessing for Luis Garcia. Injured but forced to play on in the derby, the little attacking midfielder played the second half of a friendly as he made his Spanish debut, thus proving his fitness for the fixture against Bolton this weekend.
Steven Gerrard recovered from a slight injury after the England-Northern Ireland clash to play and score for England on Wednesday. The night before a player from the same mould played for the England under-21s and also scored – John Welsh.
Even Fernando Morientes – one of the three derby casualties – is confident of playing this weekend against the odds. He said: "The injury is better. I’m not sure whether I’ll be fit for Saturday, but it’s possible. I’ve started running in training and there was no pain. The injury isn’t as bad as we thought so I’m keeping my fingers crossed I can play against Bolton. I hope so because I would like to play against my friends Ivan Campo and Fernando Hierro."
Scott Carson played well (despite one mistake grabbing all the headlines) for England’s under-21s over Easter, and Jerzy Dudek kept two clean sheets for Poland at the same time, so Chris Kirkland’s return from injury may not be as vital. Still, he thinks he’ll be back in contention before the end of the season, after originally being ruled out for the whole term. He played in the away derby defeat in December, then went for back surgery to try and cure a problem he’d been suffering from for some time. Now it seems he’s also getting fit again ahead of schedule. Speaking to the offical Liverpool website, Kirkland said: "The recovery is going very well. I had the operation on my back eleven weeks ago and it needed doing because I had been struggling with it for some time. The club and myself decided that the best thing to do was get it all sorted out so it’s gone very well. I’m running again but I’m still a couple of week’s away from diving and making saves but I’m hoping to be back in action this season. I hope to play before the end of this season, it’s obviously up to the gaffer when I play but all I can do is get myself back and fit. If the manager wants me to wait and work more on my fitness then we will decide that later on.
Kirkland had obviously been suffering with the problem – anyone who’s had even a minor back injury will sympathise: "I hope the problems I have had will now be over. Before the operation it wasn’t just playing that was the problem, it was getting out of bed in the mornings and it was everything in general so I thought the best thing was to have the operation. I am fine now and can’t feel anything which is great for me."
Kirkland arrived at Anfield with a bright future ahead of him, tipped as England’s next goalkeeper when bought from Coventry. His list of injuries has been long, yet in most cases all the injuries have been unconnected. For someone like Kirkland, full of ambition, it’s been tough: "It’s difficult to put into words what I have been through. It’s just been very, very disappointing and to be honest since I’ve come here it’s been very stop start. I’ve had some serious injuries but you just have to carry on and keep your head up and that’s what I am looking to do now. I’ve had people come up to me and wish me well and hope I can get back quickly which is nice."
Kirkland can’t handle sitting in the stands watching his team-mates play without him, and is desperate to return: "I just want to come back fully fit and be a part of it again. The last match at Anfield I played was against Olympiacos and it was such a great night to be involved in, especially as we went a goal down. The second half was just unbelievable and it went so quick as well but it was a great strike from Stevie to win us the game. It could only be him to score a goal like that."
Is Kirkland worried about the arrival under-21 keeper Scott Carson? He says not: "Scotty is a great goalkeeper, he is English as well which is great, and you know at any top club you are going to have competition. Scotty’s arrival will hopefully bring the keepers at the club on even more. I have just got to work hard during pre-season and hopefully impress the manager."
And so the comebacks seem set to continue – Xabi Alonso, originally ruled out for the whole season after Frank Lampard broke his leg, seems set to return next month, earlier than expected. The most surprising early recover – if it happens – will be for the player that looked like he may never play again – Djibril Cisse.
Cisse broke both the bones in the bottom of his leg – and without emergency treatment by Liverpool’s club doctor at the stadium, may even have lost his leg. To hear that he’s now started training with the rest of the team comes as a surprise, but even more of a surprise is boss Rafael Benitez’s hope that Cisse may play in the latter stages of the season: "Cisse is now training again with the team, he is doing all the warm-ups and he’s kicking the ball again," said the Liverpool boss. "I’m very happy with him. He’s running well and doing a lot of hard work with the physios with the ball. Yesterday, he completed a full warm-up. After talking with my assistant Paco Ayesteran, who controls the fitness coaching, we no longer believe it’s impossible he’ll play this season.
"We have to listen carefully to the doctors. We know how much Cisse wants to play, but they will decide for us. But because there are still two months of the season left, we think there is enough time for him. Djibril is a very positive person and this is why his recovery has been so good – whenever we talked to him, he was always joking and talking about playing again soon. He was determined to come back and play and this has helped him get better."
Liverpool’s boss is now looking forward to selection headaches of a different kind.