Commentary from Manchester triggered a wave of solidarity across Merseyside on Friday afternoon. Twelve miles of road separates Liverpool’s training ground to the east of the city from Everton’s in the far south and it’s safe to assume the managers involved had not briefed one another about the message they wanted to ram home. And yet, without the same question being asked, each of them name-checked José Mourinho, agreeing that he is right about one thing at least.
Mourinho had said that he was “totally against” international friendlies after Chris Smalling and Phil Jones sustained injuries while playing in the same England games that affected Adam Lallana’s conditioning and ultimately means he will miss the next four weeks of the season.
Lallana’s absence affects the way Liverpool play greatly because of his energy and determination and Jürgen Klopp was the first to speak about his loss. It transpired that like Ronald Koeman, he was frustrated about having just one full training day to get ready for a key Premier League match – the derby, indeed. While Klopp sent the players that had returned earliest out for a gentle jog on Thursday, Koeman decided on what he described as a “walking session” at Finch Farm.
Klopp admitted that he is “not famous for having the same opinion” as Mourinho but the consequence of such light preparation was questions in relation to whether there is any point in international friendlies at all. Koeman, meanwhile, suggested that clubs would have to form a bloc to provoke Fifa into changing their calendar.
“This is a situation for all of us,” Klopp said. “Belgium played a friendly in Russia on Tuesday night. Do you really think they use this game for the World Cup in two years? That is not what anybody needs. Would anyone miss international friendlies? I’m not sure. Maybe we should try.”
To say that Koeman was livid about the impact of the latest round of World international fixtures on Everton’s squad would be the understatement of the year. On a hand-written A4 pad, he had written his thoughts about James McCarthy aggravating his hamstring injury on duty with Republic of Ireland, which means he could miss the rest of Everton’s season.
Koeman reached for a pair of reading glasses, he applied them to his face and looked down at the sheet in front of him, proceeding to accuse Martin O’Neill of failing to protect his midfielder. Then, he blamed the player for not taking enough responsibility with his own health.
Even before McCarthy’s absence, Koeman was dealing with availability issues. McCarthy might have been able to replace Morgan Schneiderlin at Anfield, but Koeman confirmed the Frenchman - so influential since signing from Manchester United - has not recovered from a calf tear sustained two weeks ago in the victory over Hull City. Seamus Coleman and Ramiro Funes Mori played in that game. After what happened to them while away with Ireland and Argentina, it will be a surprise if they feature again in 2017.
“There have been a lot of comments about the break and I totally agree with José Mourinho about friendlies,” Koeman said. “It has happened to us now but it happens to other Premier League teams where you get your players back on a Friday morning and play on a Saturday with a 12.30pm kick off. We and Liverpool are in the same position. That's crazy. You can't train, you can't prepare as you would like to do. It is recover, recover, recover and for tactics you can only talk to the players on the pitch.”
Koeman has only seventeen players to choose from and that includes inexperienced defenders Jonjoe Kenny and Matthew Pennington, who are likely to be selected as substitutes against Liverpool and then again at Manchester United on Tuesday.
Klopp admitted Lallana is a player “we cannot replace,” but, he added, “we can find a solution.” With Jordan Henderson missing again through injury and Daniel Sturridge not yet back in training despite reports to the contrary, Klopp was mulling over the advantages of a change in system. “But then, we didn’t train and all the players used different systems playing for their national teams," Klopp concluded. "So I am not sure it would make a lot of sense."