Liverpool captain Jordan Henderson is worried that “nobody really takes player welfare seriously” as Premier League clubs prepare for a packed fixture schedule.
Jurgen Klopp’s side drew 2-2 with Tottenham last Sunday as part of a run of five matches in just two weeks in all competitions.
While a busy period in December is nothing new for teams in England’s top flight, the impact of the coronavirus pandemic – particularly amid the spike in cases driven by the Omicron variant – has complicated matters.
All but four of last weekend’s Premier League games were postponed due to cases of COVID-19 among players and staff, while Liverpool were without Virgil van Dijk, Curtis Jones, Fabinho and Thiago Alcantara against Spurs after positive tests.
The Reds will almost certainly rotate their side for Wednesday’s EFL Cup game against Leicester City, with their next league game at home to Leeds United only four days away. Chelsea boss Thomas Tuchel has already confirmed he will look to use Under-23 players in their clash with Brentford due to absences caused by injury and coronavirus.
Despite the problems, clubs chose to go ahead with the festive schedule at a meeting on Monday, and Henderson believes players are going to suffer if their concerns about fixture pile-ups are not taken into account.
“I don’t think people can appreciate how intense it is until you actually see it first hand,” he told BBC Sport.
“Football to us is everything, and we want to be able to perform at the highest level every time we set foot on the pitch. And unfortunately, in this period it is difficult to do that.
“That has been like this for a few years now, and it has been difficult but then, on top of that, you chuck in Covid and it becomes even harder and even worse.
“I am concerned that nobody really takes player welfare seriously.
“I think decisions get made – of course we want to play as footballers, we want to get out there and play – but I am worried about player welfare and I don’t think anybody does take that seriously enough, especially in this period, when Covid is here.
“We will try to have conversations in the background and try to have some sort of influence going forward, but at the minute I don’t feel the players get the respect they deserve in terms of having somebody being able to speak for them independently and having the power to say actually this isn’t right for player welfare.
“I know people will say we do get paid a lot of money to go out and play football. I get that and understand that, but football is everything to us. And especially those players that are playing international games and European games, you get a maximum of probably two or three weeks off a year. I am not sure that is enough to physically recover and mentally recover from the season previous.
“But again, there is no communication with players in terms of what they think, which is a big problem really, I am not saying they have to make decisions on what players think, because everybody will have a different opinion, but I think they need to be part of a conversation because, ultimately, we are the ones that are going out and feeling it and playing it.”
Henderson missed out on Sunday after falling ill with a cold, though Klopp confirmed the England international had tested negative for coronavirus.
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