07 May 2019
In a week that will define their season, Liverpool won’t welcome the untimely arrival of several first-team players into their treatment room. The Reds went to Tyneside on Saturday and managed to grind out a hard-fought 3-2 victory to keep their title aspirations alive, but they will face Barcelona in the second-leg leg of their Champions League semi-final encounter this evening without three key attacking players.
Naby Keita suffered a “high-grade adductor injury” at the Camp Nou last Wednesday which will not only keep him out of the remaining fixtures but will also mean he misses the upcoming Africa Cup of Nations. Speaking ahead of the game at St James’ Park, manager Jurgen Klopp expressed his disappointment at losing the in-form attacker until the start of next season.
“It was really unlucky,” he said after Keita’s night was ended by an Ivan Rakitic tackle on ten minutes. “Bad news, he has a high-grade adductor injury; the tendon is ruptured, which keeps him out for at least two months. He was in a really good moment – a really, really good moment – but it happened, that’s how football and life sometimes are. It’s not too nice, but it’s very serious.”
Roberto Firmino had been a doubt during the build-up to the first-leg tie after suffering a small tear in training twelve days ago, but despite being rested for the Premier League clash with Huddersfield Town, he did rejoin the group prior to the squad departing for Spain. Firmino, however, was only fit enough for a place on the bench and when Liverpool fell two-goals behind, Klopp introduced the Brazilian as a late substitute in the hope of grabbing a consolation. But, Firmino suffered a minor setback during his brief cameo that will keep him out of tonight’s game, and quite possibly the final fixture at home to Wolverhampton Wanderers.
“Bobby still has problems,” Klopp told Sky Sports before kick-off at Newcastle. “He’s just not available, that’s how it is, so we have to accept that. The medical department said ‘no chance’. It doesn’t look good for midweek.”
In his absence, Daniel Sturridge was afforded his second consecutive league start, but after a bright opening forty-five he faded badly, and it was another attacker – Divock Origi – who stole the headlines with his winner from the bench on 86 minutes.
But the late victory ended on a sour note after Mo Salah was stretchered from the field late in the game. The Egyptian star lay motionless on the St James’ turf following a heavy collision with goalkeeper Martin Dúbravka.
“I don’t know if he was out for five or six seconds because Fabian (Schär) asked him if he was all right and he didn’t answer,” the United stopper said. “So, in that moment we were a little bit scared if he was okay.”
Klopp was quick to play down the severity of the problem post-match although Salah continued to undergo a battery of tests.
“He was then on the ground, and the doc had to make a decision ‘on the pitch or off the pitch’, and the decision was off the pitch. We accept that of course,” he said. “When he came in, he was sitting in the dressing room watching the game on television. So, he was then fine, but of course, we have to wait. He got a proper knock, obviously, in that situation.”
Then on Monday, Klopp provided a further update ahead of the crucial second-leg tie on Tuesday, and it was the news all Liverpool supporters feared.
“It’s a concussion [for Salah], so that means he would not even be allowed to play. That’s it, that’s all. He feels OK, but it is not good enough from a medical point of view, that’s all. He is desperate and everything, but we cannot do it. That’s it.”
Salah will undergo a series of cognitive assessments and task-based activities and provided he can pass these without any reaction; then he should be available for the final Premier League game of the season.
For current Champions Manchester City, Pep Guardiola admits he does not know if Kevin De Bruyne can recover in time to play on Sunday. The Belgium international hasn’t featured since suffering a hamstring injury in the Premier League win over Tottenham Hotspur a fortnight ago. Initially, the problem was only thought to be minor, and it was believed that De Bruyne would feature during the run-in, but he wasn’t in the managers thinking for last night.
“I don’t know,” Guardiola replied when asked about a possible return to play. “For next Monday, he is not available.”
The setback is his fifth of an injury-plagued campaign, and it seems unlikely that De Bruyne will be risked on Sunday with his focus now shifting to being ready for the start of pre-season. Fernandinho, potentially, is a step closer after missing the victories over Burnley and Leicester because of a knee injury.
“I didn’t speak in the last days with the doctors,” said Pep. “[But] they started to go on the pitch to run.”
A win for Chelsea at the Bridge on Thursday would see the Blues reach the Europa League final and possibly set up a meeting with London-rivals Arsenal at the Baku Olympic Stadium. With third place assured, and a Champions League qualification place now guaranteed, Maurizio Sarri will not take any risks with his players. N’Golo Kante won’t feature in any of the two remaining fixtures in the hope of ensuring the midfielder is fit for later this month should Chelsea progress. The Frenchman was forced off after only ten minutes on Sunday, and the Blues boss admitted he “made a mistake” by playing Kante following his recent league and European exertions.
“The problem is with his hamstring. But I think I made a mistake,” he said after the 3-0 win over Watford. “Probably today he had to rest. Sometimes it’s very difficult to put on the bench a player so important, like Hazard, like Kante, but you have to do it. Otherwise, you risk, and I have to say I made a mistake. I think it’s very difficult to recover him for the next two matches. We want to play the final, so he’s lucky, and we have to try to recover him for the final in case.”
Ruben Loftus-Cheek came on and once again proved himself to be worthy of a starting berth with another excellent display.
And finally, Aaron Ramey will end his 11-year affiliation with the club in June, but there will be no fairy tale ending for the Wales international. Ramsey has kicked his last ball for Arsenal as his recovery from a hamstring strain is taking longer than initially hoped. Speaking after the quarter-final win in Naples last month, manager Unai Emery was optimistic of a return before the end of the season, possibly within two or three weeks, but respected BBC Sport correspondent David Ornstein understands this not to be the case, and his Arsenal career is now over.
“It was hoped he might recover in time to feature before the end of the Premier League campaign or a potential Europa League final,” read a statement on the BBC Sport website. “But the 28-year-old needs longer to recover and has, therefore, played his last game for the club.”
Ramsey then took to Instagram to confirm the news.
“It saddens me to say that the game against Napoli was my last game in an Arsenal shirt,” he wrote. “Unfortunately, it left me with an injury that rules me out of the remaining games. I am really disappointed not to play until the end and give everything for the club while I am still an Arsenal player. Unfortunately, it’s out of my hands, but I wanted to say thank you to the fans for your support.”
Ramsey will leave the club when his contract expires on 30 June and joins Italian champions Juventus as a free agent. He arrived at Arsenal in 2008 from Cardiff City for less than £6m and is currently the Gunners’ longest-serving player.