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How Liverpool plan to avoid another injury crisis – and why Ruben Peeters is key

How Liverpool plan to avoid another injury crisis – and why Ruben Peeters is key

If Arne Slot is the man to reignite Liverpool’s quest for trophies, then his experienced lieutenant Ruben Peeters will be the assistant he cannot live without.

Peeters, a 32-year-old with a master’s degree in sports science from KU Leuven, was the first confirmed member of a new backroom team following the end of the Jurgen Klopp era this summer. Manager Slot had insisted on bringing Peeters, previously head of physical performance at Feyenoord, with him to Anfield after years of success together in the Netherlands.

One of the main reasons Liverpool signed Slot, along with his exciting style of play and ability to improve players, was his former club Feyenoord’s almost magical powers when it came to preventing injuries. For three seasons, the Rotterdam side’s player availability levels were above 90 per cent, and Slot played a key role in this by listening carefully to the specialists who made up one of the most successful medical and performance departments in world football.

One such expert was Peeters, an expert in what is known as periodisation, who knew exactly how hard to push each individual at various points throughout a season without overtaxing their body. Every morning at Feyenoord, he would provide Slot with a meticulous briefing on how long the group should train for, and like clockwork, the session would start and end as suggested.

Peeters’ work has been transformative in helping to deliver maximum availability and, if successfully replicated in Liverpool, could be hugely beneficial.

According to the respected website premierinjuries.com, Liverpool lost 21 different players to injury last season – only Tottenham Hotspur (22) had more out of the 20 Premier League clubs. Klopp also used 30 players – five more than Manchester City and Arsenal – during a campaign that saw his club fall short of the title race, finishing third, seven and nine points behind those two teams.

Liverpool were not the only club to suffer such setbacks, as Manchester United, Aston Villa and Newcastle United were also ravaged by injuries at various stages of the season. However, a particular sticking point for Klopp came in February when veteran players Alisson, Trent Alexander-Arnold, Darwin Nunez, Diogo Jota, Dominik Szoboszlai, Curtis Jones and Mohamed Salah were all unavailable at the same time.

Liverpool did manage to win the League Cup final that month, thanks to a talented group of youngsters who took on Chelsea at Wembley, but trouble soon set in in the following weeks as they were knocked out of the FA Cup (17 March) and the Europa League (mid-April) and saw their title challenge dwindle (a run of one win in five during April).

The common occurrence of players returning from injury only to be fit again – as happened with Alexander-Arnold, Salah, Szoboszlai, Jota and Jones in the second half of the season – was alarming.

New sporting director Richard Hughes is hoping to see Liverpool’s injury record improve in the coming years and has heard the plans of Slot and Peeters, who join Sipke Hulshoff (first assistant manager), Fabian Otte (first team goalkeeping coach) and Aaron Briggs (elite development coach) as the club’s new recruits.

Some of the initial groundwork is already underway as a new era begins without Klopp and his backroom staff.


Harvey Elliott is put through his paces in Liverpool’s pre-season (Andrew Powell/Liverpool FC via Getty Images)

Andreas Kornmayer, the longtime head of fitness and conditioning, and Andreas Schlumberger, who worked on performance and recovery, also left this summer, and Peeters will now be expected to oversee various aspects of each of those roles.

Periodization will be key this summer, with many players returning later than usual after having played for their national teams at the Euros or Copa America.

Dutch trio Virgil van Dijk, Cody Gakpo and Ryan Gravenberch, English duo Alexander-Arnold and Joe Gomez, Nunez (Uruguay) and Alexis Mac Allister (Argentina) are part of the teams that will reach at least the semi-finals of these competitions in Germany and the United States, and will have a break from football after the tournament and time with their families before resuming club activities and turning their eyes to next season.

How Liverpool manage these returning players will be crucial to hitting the ground running when games start counting next month. City, Arsenal and Villa, the rest of last season’s top four, have similar issues to contend with but are already ahead of the curve due to the time each of their managers spent instructing players in a certain style in previous years.

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Newcomer Slot insists he won’t change much at Liverpool, but he will still need time to implement his ideas and identity. Getting players back into the swing of things after gruelling international tournaments is one thing, but adapting to a new way of working can bring added stress.

That’s why Slot was keen to have Peeters alongside him after sharing so many successes in Rotterdam – Feyenoord reached the Europa Conference League final in 2022 and won the Eredivisie title a year later, and the pair then said goodbye in May by lifting the Dutch equivalent of the FA Cup.

The patience they showed with player development was also crucial.

Take, for example, Yankuba Minteh, who joined Brighton & Hove Albion for around £33m from Newcastle this summer. The 19-year-old spent last season on loan at Feyenoord. Inconsistent when he arrived, by the time he left he was more polished, with 10 goals and five assists in 27 league games.


Minteh, left, benefited from a patient approach at Feyenoord last season (Maurice van Steen/ANP/AFP via Getty Images)

Slot listens to his medical team when they ask for patience with players and is always prepared to think about the bigger picture.

When striker Santiago Gimenez arrived at Feyenoord from Mexico’s Cruz Azul in the summer of 2022, his training plan was heavily loaded in the first few months to build his fitness so he could explode into life in the second half of that season. Now, after 15 and then 23 league goals in his two seasons in Rotterdam, the 23-year-old Gimenez is one of the most highly-rated forwards in the Eredivisie and is attracting interest from big clubs across Europe.

Fundamental to all of this was Peeters’ work and the trust he earned from Slot.

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“Ruben is very professional in the way he conducts himself and is very strong in his areas of expertise (periodisation),” said Matt Wade, Feyenoord’s head of sports strategy. The Athletic. “We used to have two heads of performance – Ruben and Leigh Egger (who remains at the club) – and they worked really well together.

“Their responsibilities were a little different, but they became much better, which is quite unique. Arne is a world-class coach, but he is also excellent at listening to advice.”


Slot gives instructions at Liverpool’s Kirkby base this week (John Powell/Liverpool FC via Getty Images)

The “freedom” given to each specialist at Feyenoord to excel in their individual role has been important to the club’s success, and building a new culture at Liverpool following all the high-profile departures will be an integral part of Hughes’ role following his move from fellow Premier League club Bournemouth.

One of his responsibilities is to oversee the medical and performance department and, in time, he will no doubt leave his mark on it. Bournemouth were among the top-flight side for injury record last season – only two clubs suffered fewer separate injuries (Arsenal with 23 and Fulham with 22) than his 25 – and Hughes will be hoping for similar success on Merseyside.

This week Salah and Wataru Endo, internationals for Egypt and Japan respectively, whose countries did not host tournaments this summer, joined the small group of players already at the club’s training ground in Kirkby.

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In the first week of pre-season, Liverpool worked on new movements during physical training.

A six-minute run test was created to measure the levels at which returning players are performing. The duration is specific because six minutes is approximately the amount of time players can maintain a VO2max intensity (a metric that describes cardiorespiratory fitness related to the highest amount of oxygen the body can use during exercise), and from there a maximal aerobic speed (MAS) is calculated.

Footage has also emerged of players engaging in shoulder-tag games, where the squad is split into pairs and has to tap each other on (you guessed it) the shoulder. Similar to part of Peeters and Slot’s training regime at Feyenoord, it is designed to improve balance and coordination.

Greater amounts of testing at Liverpool are likely, as Slot requires his players to be super fit to function effectively in his system, which requires aggressive pressing when out of possession. At Feyenoord, the players grew to love both the variety of training and the element of fun that was included.

Long-serving Liverpool players know all about the hard-working demands of the “beastly” sessions under Klopp. This is a new era, however, and the changes will become clear as the pre-season schedule unfolds in the countdown to the opening match away to promoted Ipswich on August 17.

If the squad can stay fit for longer — Liverpool lost players to injury for a total of 1,383 days last season, also according to premierinjuries.com — that will be one of the key targets achieved.

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(Top photos: Liverpool in pre-season training; Ruben Peeters; Getty Images)