For the third reason in a row, injuries are negatively affecting our performances far more than they should and while this surely can’t be seen as the only excuse for an under-performing team, our bad luck with injuries has without a doubt played a major role. I would even go so far as to say that I can’t put any blame on the management because, even though we have been signing some players known to be “injury-prone”, it seems to have reached a level that you simply can not expect to last for three years and for which you can only prepare yourself to a certain extent.
The best example for this is the state of our central defence. In theory and irrespective of quality, five senior centre-backs and a promising youngster from the U21s should be more than enough to get us through a season – or at least half of it. Yet, with only a quarter of the season’s games played, we are struggling to field a fit centre-back pairing – and this isn’t the first time. Going into a season with three players capable of playing in that position is risky but has worked for some teams. To be on the safe side, most squads have four players in the heart of the defence, which seems to be an agreed and tested standard. However, our manager has been shown more than once that for us this still is not enough and rightly signed two more centre-backs, Jores Okore and Philippe Senderos, during the last two summers to bring our count of senior central defenders to a rather unusual total of five, with several other players able to fill in at this position if needed. The fact that injuries still see us working at the lower limit in this respect is the prime example of how much injuries can influence a team’s performance.
Some of our main causes for injuries seem to be going too far during the matches, training accidents and injuries sustained during international breaks. However, even if we know what the reasons are, we will probably not be able to simply stop the run of injuries. Instead, we have to work our way around shortages and improvise, which is not really what you want to do when things already don’t work out in league and cups.
Yet this is exactly what Paul Lambert will have to do for our next match as captain Ron Vlaar, the organising Philippe Senderos and much-improved Nathan Baker could all miss out. This is never ideal but especially inconvenient at a time when Jores Okore seemingly still isn’t up to speed and Ciaran Clark is struggling to find any kind of form and still has not cut back on basic errors. We could recall youngster Janoi Donacien, who has been a regular during his loan spell at Tranmere so far, but the chances of that happening are slim and it isn’t the best time to introduce him to the Premier League with a lot of pressure being put on the team after the recent run of games. A centre-back pairing of Ciaran Clark and Matthew Lowton, who is actually a right-back, isn’t what we all expected to be seeing in November but now it could be a real option once again. In my opinion, both players do have the ability and potential to make it at this level but current form calls for a fully fit squad to get the team back on track. Now it is once again the players considered third, fourth or even fifth choice who are supposed to get us the positive results that we so urgently need.
In terms of injuries, there is only so much the management can do so we can only hope that everybody injured gets well soon and that the ones who are fit stay that way. Positive news on our centre-backs would be a big step in the right direction!