Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers says he is down to 17 fit players as Jon Flanagan battles a hamstring problem ahead of the Boxing Day trip to Manchester City.
Flanagan, normally a right-back, has started the last six games at left-back as Jose Enrique recovers from knee surgery. But the 20-year-old hobbled off during Saturday’s 3-1 win over Cardiff, and will be assessed ahead of Thursday’s match at the Etihad Stadium.
Captain Steven Gerrard, who has a hamstring problem, and striker Daniel Sturridge, who is recovering from an ankle injury, are both out until January. And the Premier League leaders are struggling for numbers as they prepare to visit a City side who have won all eight of their home games in the competition this season.
Rodgers said: “Our squad is very thin at the moment. We’ve got 17 players, which is unfortunate for us, going into a busy period. We just have to assess young Jon Flanagan. Leading into the game against Cardiff, he had a tight hamstring for a few days.
“He was fit enough to start play, but he felt it a little bit during the game, so we had to take him off. We need to assess that over the next 24 hours. None of the guys who have been out have returned, so we’re quite thin on the ground.”
Martin Kelly, who came on for Flanagan against Cardiff, is an option for Rodgers, but has not started a first-team game since rupturing his cruciate knee ligament against Manchester United in Sept. 2012. And the manager has indicated that he is wary of throwing the 23-year-old back in for such a big game.
Rodgers said: “He’s working very hard in training, Martin, and I think all the players know that it’s something I look very closely at. I think he’s said it himself that he’s over the injury now. It’s really about him performing to a level where we can see him getting the opportunity.
“He’s a good guy, Martin. I like him a lot. He’s been through a lot with his injury. That just takes that bit of time before psychologically and physically, you feel ready to play. If he’s 100 percent on his game, then he’s a very valuable player for us.”
Despite his squad’s injury troubles, Rodgers is relishing the challenge of becoming the first away team to win a Premier League game at the Etihad Stadium this season.
Liverpool drew both league games against City 2-2 last season, having been in a good position to win each time.
A misplaced Martin Skrtel backpass allowed Carlos Tevez to nip in and score an equaliser at Anfield in Aug. 2012, while goalkeeper Pepe Reina’s misjudged dash from his line the following February gave Sergio Aguero the chance to earn City a late point at the Etihad.
Rodgers said: “In the two games we had against Manchester City last year, we were the better side, home and away. We made mistakes that cost us and we ended up drawing the two games.
“They’ll know that we’re a good side, and that we arrive there in a really good moment. Our confidence is high, and everyone can see the bravery of our players to play football. The courage is there.
“Manchester City are a squad who have been built to challenge for every trophy in the world. We understand the size of the task. But it’s about the team. And our team at the moment has shown to be the best team over 17 games. So yes, we’re thin, we’ve got injuries, but it’s an opportunity that we’re really relishing.”
Liverpool will sit top of the Premier League on Christmas Day, but Rodgers is aware there is still much work to do if they are to become champions of England for the first time since 1990.
Of the current squad, only full-back Glen Johnson, central defender Kolo Toure and striker Sturridge have won English title medals, while Rodgers is only in his third season as a Premier League manager. But that relative lack of experience at the very top end of English football does not faze the Liverpool boss.
He said: “You need to get that experience from somewhere. You only do that by going on and winning games. Of course, there are teams with much more experience than ourselves at winning titles.
“But you only get that experience by doing it, and by focusing on the job. We look no further than the next game. If we can continue with that over the course of the next 10 games, then we’ll assess it for the run-in, and that will be the really exciting part.”