The return of Luis Diaz, the new club and punishment doctor
Some 23 days after they hit the road following their win over Southampton, Liverpool’s squad will reconvene on Monday.
They will travel to Dubai for a warm-weather training camp that Jurgen Klopp hopes will be the perfect starting point for the second half of the season.
Of course, there will be some notable absentees. The England of Jordan Henderson and Trent Alexander-Arnold, the Brazilian duo of Alisson and Fabinho, captain Holland, Virgil van Dijk, and the France of Ibrahim Konata are still dreaming of glory in Qatar.
Darwin Nunez’s World Cup campaign ended in tears on Friday after Uruguay failed to reach the knockout stages, but the forward was given a week’s leave before joining up with the UAE national team.
However, when training begins at the Nad Al Sheba Sports Complex (NAS) on Tuesday, Klopp will have no shortage of elite men to work with. Mohamed Salah, Roberto Firminotiago, Joe Gomez, James Milner, Harvey Elliotto, Fabio Carvalho and Andy Robertson are among those who will be fresh and fit after enjoying the luxury of a three-week mid-season break.
The break was not something Klopp wanted. He was an open critic of the timing of the winter World Cup and the decision to hold the tournament in Qatar for ethical reasons.
But the break in the domestic season has allowed Liverpool’s injury situation to be largely clarified. Most importantly, Luis Diaz is now in a position to continue training with the team in Dubai. The talented Colombian forward has not played since picking up a knee injury for Arsenal in early October.
While many of his teammates have been lying on the beach relaxing in recent weeks, Diaz has been doing hard work and completing his rehabilitation at the AXA Training Center in Kirkby and everything has gone according to plan. Hopefully he will have enough training to play a role in the friendlies.
Liverpool will play two games in the Dubai Super Cup at the 15,000 capacity Al Maktoum Stadium. They face French side Lyon on Sunday 11 December (14:00 GMT) and then Serie A side Milan on Friday 16 December (15:30 GMT).
Interestingly, penalty kicks will be taken regardless of the outcome of matches with an extra point awarded to the winners. Arsenal are also taking part in the tournament, but the two Premier League clubs will not face each other.
Liverpool will return to Merseyside on December 17 – five days before they resume their campaign with a Carabao Cup clash against Manchester City at the Etihad. You then return to Premier League action on Boxing Day with a trip to Aston Villa.
Diaz’s return is a huge boost and gives Klopp a real injection of firepower as he looks to generate much-needed momentum after a turbulent start to the season that has seen them seven points adrift in fourth. Tottenham with a game in hand. “We can’t wait to see Lewis back. He’s the kind of player who smiles with the ball at his feet,” says assistant manager Pep Leanders.
The break also allowed contact Nabi Keita (hamstring) and center back Joel Matip (calf) to return to full fitness. Keita has not played since the Community Shield win over City at the end of July and it has been a setback for the Guinean international, as his contract expires in the summer.
Diogo Jota is expected to travel to Dubai to continue his rehabilitation program at The Sun. A serious calf injury ruled him out of Portugal’s World Cup squad and he is unlikely to return to action until February. “A change of scenery is always a welcome factor when recovering from a long-term injury,” adds Leanders.
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With Alisson in Qatar, Caoimhin Kelleher will be the senior goalkeeper with Adrian and academy student Harvey Davis as back-up. Marcelo Petaluga will also be on the flight while he is undergoing treatment. The stunning young Brazilian goalkeeper’s loan spell at non-league Macclesfield has been cut short with an ankle ligament injury that will keep him out until January.
Liverpool’s new club doctor Jonathan Power will be in Dubai but will not take on full responsibilities until he serves his notice period in January. The former men’s soccer team doctor worked as a sports and exercise medicine consultant at the Bermuda Center for Sports Medicine and Orthopedics. Sarah Lindsay and Ben McCarten have been filling the void since Jim Moxon left in July.
Players and staff had the opportunity to report live to the team hotel in Dubai on Monday, with some, including Elliott and Calvin Ramsey, enjoying a relaxing time on the Gulf coast over the past few days before returning to work. Overlooked in Spain, Thiago was on holiday with his family in the Maldives after recent trips to Las Vegas and California.
One of the reasons why Liverpool chose Dubai is that it is only an hour’s flight from Qatar, so players can easily connect with the team after their participation in the tournament is over. However, anyone who reaches the quarter-finals or beyond is unlikely to be part of the camp.
Liverpool only had seven players selected for the World Cup. In contrast, it was Manchester City 16, Manchester United 13, Chelsea 12, Tottenham 11 and Arsenal 10.
The Leijders are confident they will take advantage of a large number of players enjoying an extended break before heading into the second season.
“With extended periods of high performance, players can become mentally exhausted,” he says. Many people confuse physical fatigue with mental fatigue, but we all know that mind and body are one. “We will return to Dubai with fresh heads and eager to prepare for the second half of the season. We still have the same goal: to create special matches and memories together. There’s still a lot to play for.”
Off the pitch, there is a lot of uncertainty at Liverpool, with owners Fenway Sports Group weighing offers for a full takeover plus a minority stake. Sporting director Julian Ward, who only officially took over in June, has decided to step down at the end of the season.
For Klopp and Leanders, it’s about trying to ensure there are no unwanted distractions as they look to get Liverpool pressing up the pitch again. The reset button has been pressed. There’s a lot of work to do. Their 12-night stay in Dubai provides an intensive period of training that they won’t be able to get again between now and May.
(Photo: John Powell/Liverpool FC via Getty Images)