How have the Premier League’s top six been affected by injuries to key players?
Liverpool must fight for a top-four finish without the injured Sadio Mane, but how have the top six coped with injuries to key players this season?
A quiet physio room has obvious benefits. With a full squad to choose from, managers can build momentum by consistently selecting their strongest XI, while rotating in fringe players when necessary.
Chelsea have been such benefactors of a season bereft of serious injuries, and Antonio Conte’s side lead the Premier League standings as a result.
Meanwhile, the chasing pack have been hampered by lengthy absences to key players – Harry Kane for Tottenham, Ilkay Gundogan and Gabriel Jesus for Man City, while Liverpool are currently making do without Mane.
But how have notable injuries impacted the form of the league’s top six? We take a look…
Where key players are concerned, Chelsea’s injury history this season could be written on the back of a cigarette box.
It makes for remarkable reading. Thibaut Courtois, Gary Cahill and Cesar Azpilicueta have started every league game this season. David Luiz has been an ever-present since joining from PSG, while Marcos Alonso has featured in the starting XI ever since the season-defining 3-0 loss to Arsenal in September.
The list goes on. Victor Moses started every match after that Arsenal game until he suffered a calf strain in mid-March, while N’Golo Kante has missed just one match through suspension.
Further up field, Eden Hazard has been absent on just two single occasions, with Diego Costa in the same boat – the first coming through a one-match ban, the second following a bust-up with Antonio Conte.
It all means that just 17 players have started for Chelsea in the league this season, with the aforementioned nine players giving Chelsea an undoubted stability in their title charge. From their match at Hull in October up until Moses’ recent injury against Stoke – those nine names featured in 18 of 22 starting XIs named by Antonio Conte. Moses’ return at Bournemouth on Saturday made it the 19th time in 25 games.
The remaining two slots have predominantly been filled by Nemanja Matic or Cesc Fabregas in midfield, and Pedro or Willian in attack. Captain John Terry has been a periphery figure as a result of this remarkable run without injuries, while it has also driven Branislav Ivanovic and Oscar to Russia and China respectively.
No Harry Kane, no problem – or so it would appear for Spurs. The England striker recently returned from an ankle injury which also caused him to miss five league games earlier in the season.
What’s more notable is the series of underwhelming results without either Toby Alderweireld or Jan Vertonghen. Fortunately for Spurs, one half of this feared centre-back pairing has featured in every league game, but they do appear to struggle when the other is out through injury.
Spurs’ influential centre-backs
PL record when Alderweireld and Vertonghen start: W14 D3 L1 – Win Ratio of 78%
When either Alderweireld or Vertonghen is absent: W6 D5 L2 – Win Ratio of 46%
In the six league games without Alderweireld in late 2016, Spurs’ record read as W2 D3 L1, nine points from a possible 18. As stated, more middle-of-the-road rather than heading to either extreme.
It was the Champions League however, where they faltered and ultimately crashed out with Alderweireld on the sidelines – losing twice and drawing once in his absence.
Meanwhile, four games without Vertonghen (ankle injury) earlier this year was equally underwhelming (W1 D2 L1). Put simply, Spurs are better off when the duo start together.
Liverpool’s struggles without Sadio Mane have been documented here at Sky Sports – but the club finally made amends when recovering from a goal down to beat Stoke 2-1 on the weekend without the forward.
It was their first league win this season when Mane has not been present, and they must make do without the 25-year-old after he suffered a season-ending knee injury.
The Reds lost Joel Matip and Philippe Coutinho at a similar point in the season back in December. It started disastrously with the 4-3 loss at Bournemouth, but it would be wrong to suggest it was a tumultuous period for Jurgen Klopp.
Countinho went on to miss another six league games, with Liverpool winning four and drawing two. And while Matip returned after the Bournemouth defeat to feature – and slip up – in the 2-2 draw against West Ham, his subsequent six-game absence (five being the same as Coutinho) also reads as W4 D2 L0.
Klopp’s men came out unscathed in Coutinho and Matip’s absence. The German will hope for more of the same with Mane out and Jordan Henderson’s return currently unknown.
Where do you start with City? A constant tinkering to the starting XI from Pep Guardiola could be put down to uncertainty, but a string of injuries has often made these changes an enforced one.
David Silva, Raheem Sterling and Keven De Bruyne are the lucky ones, with the influential trio missing just a handful of league games between them.
However, they have surrounded by chaos in midfield. Just as summer signing Ilkay Gundogan was establishing himself in the side, a cruciate ligament rupture ended the German’s season.
Meanwhile, the exiled Yaya Toure returned from the wilderness in November, Fernandinho has missed five league matches through suspension and Fernando has been rarely called upon.
It’s impossible to pinpoint one single absentee during a certain period for City this season and claim that is the reason why their push for the title has fallen short.
The club have had seasons of dealing with the inconsistent presence of captain Vincent Kompany, but perhaps the ‘what if’ will be applied to Gabriel Jesus’ injury.
A breath of fresh air for City, the Brazilian scored three goals in the 203 minutes he graced the turf in the league. And just as City appeared to be building some momentum, the striker suffered a metatarsal fracture. The club’s record since his absence reads W2 D3 L1.
Santi Cazorla’s influence in midfield is undoubtedly missed by Arsenal, but this is a scenario Arsenal have had to deal with since his knee injury in December 2015.
The Spaniard has started just eight league games since then, while surgery on a troublesome ankle has kept him out since October this campaign.
Arsenal won six and drew one of the seven league matches in which Cazorla started before his ankle injury this season, though they remained unbeaten for a further seven games in his absence.
Alexis Sanchez has started 30 of Arsenal’s 32 league games, while Theo Walcott and Olivier Giroud have made up for the other’s absence throughout the season.
Two straight losses in December at Everton and Man City came without Shkodran Mustafi playing alongside Koscielny in defence, while Mesut Ozil was out for their recent losses at Liverpool and West Brom.
There were more absences for the shock 3-0 defeat at Crystal Palace, though, with Petr Cech, David Ospina, Francis Coquelin and Laurent Koscielny unavailable. Arsenal have lost two of the three games Koscielny has missed this season while their collapse at Bayern Munich in the Champions League came following his first-half injury.
It would be foolish to put these defeats down to the lack of key players, though, with the unrest and uncertainty around Wenger, Ozil and Sanchez’s future set to be the main factor should they miss out on the top four.
Manchester United’s physio room has seldom been occupied by more than two or three players this season, and their injury problems have been light in comparison to neighbours City.
Zlatan Ibrahimovic has stayed injury-free, missing just three matches through suspension, while Paul Pogba has only recently been out for a couple of matches with hamstring trouble.
However, where United have been hurt is in defence. Injuries to Eric Bailly, Chris Smalling and Phil Jones at various times this season has not allowed Jose Mourinho to settle on a back four.
Having just recovered from a knee injury which kept him out of the first 10 league games, Jones was thrown in at the deep end when Smalling and Bailly were ruled out for a number of weeks.
Fresh injuries to Smalling and Jones while on England duty means their return is currently unknown, but United haven’t fared too badly in the goals conceded department, shipping just 24 – a tally which only Tottenham (22) can better.