It was always going to be the case that the way in which COVID-19 forced huge changes to the footballing calendar would have an eventual impact on player fitness, and we’ve seen just that in 2020/21 with a number of stars missing most of, if not the entire campaign, through injury.
Ahead of a summer where the European Championship will be played after Euro 2020 was postponed for one year, a number of players who would be integral parts of their national sides are facing battles against the clock to be fit enough to compete.
Virgil van Dijk – Liverpool
The Dutch defender was on the receiving end of a poor challenge from Jordan Pickford in the first Merseyside derby of the season, and it was confirmed that he had suffered an ACL injury.
It was an ailment that had a personal impact on the former Southampton star, ruling him out for the remainder of the club season, but it also sent Liverpool’s own campaign spiralling.
A further ACL injury to Joe Gomez has left Jurgen Klopp without his first-choice defensive pairing for almost the entire campaign, and the team has surrendered their Premier League crown, currently sitting 25 points and six places adrift of Manchester City.
Ansu Fati – Barcelona
2020/21 was supposed to be the season in which Fati cemented himself as the next transcendent star to represent Barcelona, after his sharp start to life in senior football last term.
However, it took until just November for this dream to be shattered as the Spanish international suffered a knee injury of his own, which all but ruled him out for the season.
Whilst the Blaugrana haven’t outwardly suffered, mainly due to the emergence of Ousmane Dembele‘s best level, Fati himself has been forced to live a really quite awful period from a personal perspective.
Multiple setbacks have seen the teenager face a third operation on his knee since November, and his participation in Euro 2021, where he would have starred, is likely to be rendered impossible.
Eden Hazard – Real Madrid
Whilst Hazard hasn’t suffered the catastrophic injuries that afflicted Van Dijk, Gomez and Fati, the Belgian forward has been the victim of another form of ailment… chronic problems.
An ankle injury suffered in 2019/20 has carried over into the current season and Hazard simply hasn’t been able to stay healthy.
He has missed large chunks of the season, with setbacks coming almost as soon as he nears a return to full flow. His absence has had a marked impact on Real Madrid’s season, with Karim Benzema once again forced to carry all the attacking burden on his shoulders.
It’s telling that after the Frenchman’s 23 goals, the next highest is Marco Asensio with four in all competitions.
Real Madrid supporters haven’t yet seen enough of Hazard in the two seasons since he joined to make any real judgement on his quality, because he hasn’t played anywhere near enough football, and these repeat problems are becoming a growing concern.