Leeds United have suffered their fair share of injury troubles this season but, as head coach Marcelo Bielsa, has been keen to point out, no worse than any of their Championship rivals.
Two months after his appointment by Liverpool, Jurgen Klopp had 11 players in the treatment room and gaps all over his team. And so came the question: were Liverpool the victims of bad luck? Or were they suffering the onset of injuries caused by the strain of Klopp’s newly-enforced Gegenpress?
Klopp had enough self-awareness to concede that a casualty list so long was worth looking into.
“Hamstring is the s**t word of the year for me,” he said after Philippe Coutinho pulled one of his in January 2016. “Maybe we would have to change our training methods. I am responsible, certainly.”
On the outside there was a presumption of some correlation between Klopp’s tactics and the crisis around him. Liverpool’s players were running further and at higher levels of intensity and, in the thick of a winter fixture list, had little in the way of recovery time.
Deep down Klopp saw the situation differently. “You need a little bit of luck with injuries,” he said. “We didn’t have too much.”
The narrative of Klopp’s tactics pushing his players too far no longer pervades Anfield but a similar one fell at Marcelo Bielsa’s door after Leeds United’s win at Wigan Athletic on Sunday.
In the week before that game, Leeds had ruled right-back Luke Ayling out for two months and versatile defender Gaetano Berardi out for four.
Berardi’s injury was his second in eight weeks and Bielsa has been juggling with absences since the latter stages of pre-season when Adam Forshaw’s broken foot began a stream of them.
It is not in dispute that Bielsa revised and intensified Leeds’ training methods over the summer with a specific view to imposing his brand of football on the club’s players.
There are tactical differences between Bielsa and Klopp but Bielsa’s core philosophies - the high press, possession-based play, full-backs working as wing-backs - require stamina and impeccable fitness.
Training at Thorp Arch in pre-season ran to triple sessions. Ayling revealed how he was told to lose half a stone, despite maintaining the target weight set for him at the end of last season. Almost every player shed body fat and analysis of their performance began to show marked increases in the speed and distance of their running.
Stuart Dallas touched on the impact of their preparation last month, highlighting the way in which the physical changes of the squad were being driven by Bielsa’s ideas.
“The way we’ve gone about our aerobic running and high-intensity running, if you look at our stats throughout the games we’ve played our running is through the roof,” Dallas said.
“It’s statistically shown that if you overrun teams you’ll have the majority of the ball, and most of the time it comes out with a positive result.”
Dallas is one of the players who has missed games through injury this season. Six members of the starting line-up Bielsa used against Stoke City on the first week are either missing at present or have spent time recuperating from a range of ailments.
In the case of individuals like Pablo Hernandez and Barry Douglas, their problems were soft tissue injuries; the dreaded hamstring which vexed Klopp two years ago.
Relatively few have been caused by impact - collisions or tackles which are difficult to pre-empt - but Ayling was hurt in that way and Patrick Bamford ruptured a posterior cruciate ligament after landing awkwardly from an aerial challenge during an appearance with Leeds’ Under-23s. Berardi sustained severe damage to a hamstring after over-extending his leg against Nottingham Forest.
Bielsa was asked on Sunday if the absences he had dealt with since taking charge of Leeds were related to his training programme or his “regime” in general.
“We should analyse case by case,” United’s head coach replied. “Actually, we are the team who has least injuries in the Championship. If we take some parameters, if we take into account the number of players used, we are a team with few injuries.
“Muscular injuries are linked to excessive efforts but that’s not the case with Gaetano Berardi. It’s not the case with Luke Ayling, it’s not the case with Bamford and it was not the case with Liam Cooper (who pulled up in the warm-up before Leeds’ 2-2 draw at Swansea City in August).
“I would say that a high percentage of injured players didn’t have muscular injuries.”
After Bielsa’s arrival in June Leeds recruited a new head of medicine and performance, Rob Price, from Hull City.
Price was well travelled after previous jobs with Liverpool and the Football Association and had a reputation for successfully cutting the time lost to rehabilitation.
United expect Ayling to return in January and Berardi to make his comeback in February. Bamford should be fit around the turn of the year and Izzy Brown - a loanee from Chelsea who is completing his recovery from an ACL he was carrying when Leeds signed him in August - is looking at a similar timeframe.
Brown aside, Leeds’ injury list at Wigan ran to three names: Ayling, Berardi and Bamford. It was not quite the crowd of 11 which Klopp found himself answering for but the question to Bielsa was more about the litany of minor and major set-backs since the latter stages of July.
“Usually as an average when you play twice a week, each team has four players missing for each game,” Bielsa said. “We are close to this average.”