Andy Robertson believes he and his Liverpool teammates can use the mid-season break for maximum benefit as they prepare to attack the final third of the season.
The Reds resume their Premier League title quest at Norwich City on Saturday having established a 22-point advantage at the summit before the pause in action.
It was a timely hiatus for Robertson, who was able to nurse a niggling foot injury, while Sadio Mane and James Milner recuperated sufficiently to return to training this week and further bolster Jürgen Klopp’s options.
Ahead of the trip to Carrow Road we caught up with the left-back to discuss the winter break, his fitness, Liverpool’s outstanding recent defensive solidity and the importance of competitiveness in the squad...
Firstly, how was your break?
It was nice. It was nice to spend some time with the family and switch off from a hectic schedule and football for a wee bit and come back refreshed. Hopefully people see that in the performances that the team put in because we look as if we have come back refreshed, like I said, and maybe cleared up any injuries we might have had.
Did you manage to properly switch off, because it has been such a busy couple of seasons since you broke into the team?
I managed to get away and try to switch off from football and spend some family time. It has been a hectic couple of seasons; obviously in the summer you can switch off but it’s nice during the season to get that week off where you just don’t need to worry about anything. Of course, we still had to stay on top of ourselves and we had [individual training] programmes for ourselves. But I get itchy feet anyway just sitting about all day so I was quite happy to do it. For a week off, it was all worth it.
The proof will obviously come in the results that follow, but after your first experience of it, do you see this mid-season break as a positive?
Hopefully, yes. For a few of us, definitely – people were maybe playing with knocks or injuries and it has given them a whole week to kind of clear them up. I know mine feels better, I feel closer to 100 per cent in terms of my body, which is always a positive. Being in training pain-free is always a nice thing, which maybe hasn’t happened in a couple of weeks leading up to that. To clear up any of that is a positive, for a week to just let your body recover. Hopefully we now have a strong finish to the season and we can see that the week was beneficial, and hopefully the results follow. But even if the worst-case scenario [with results], in terms of injuries it has managed to get some lads back fit, which is so important for us.
Was it a good time for you to have a rest? Since the beginning of last season, you’ve started 60 of the 63 league games and 17 of the 19 Champions League games…
To be honest, my body felt fine. I didn’t feel tired and it wasn’t tiredness. It was more the pain I was playing in at times; I pulled out of the Scotland squad in November with an injury and it probably continued on, then I took another knock on it and it probably got worse. A lot of us play through pain at times, that’s part and parcel of being a footballer. You need to be out there on a Saturday if you can. Where there’s a will there’s a way. A lot of us have showed that at times.
Last time out in the league: Liverpool 4-0 Southampton
For me, it was on my left foot, which is never the best. If it was on my right foot it probably wouldn’t even have been an injury. Being on your strong foot, it’s tough when you’re passing the ball and it’s sending pain up your leg. It’s hopefully a thing of the past, there’s been time to clear that up. I don’t feel I needed a rest physically, I felt as if I could still run for 90 minutes and do it at a good level. Those stats, I’m happy with them. I like to play games, I get paid to play games and it probably shows I’ve been doing a couple of things right if I’ve played that many games! I’m happy with the amount of games I’ve played and hopefully that continues for the next two seasons and so on. But when you get a week off you’ve got to take it.
How much of a boost was it to see Sadio Mane and James Milner back in training this week?
That’s another positive. We knew if we could get there [to the winter break] the lads then effectively had two weeks until the next game to try to get back fit. Sadio and Millie managed to do that. They are both naturally quick healers and they have shown that once again. Both of them were a big loss, of course – the team haven’t shown it in terms of the results and performances we’ve had – but to have those two as options is incredible and just makes our squad stronger again. It’s great to have everyone back fit near enough, I think there’s only maybe a couple still out. To have near enough a full squad, hopefully that continues until the end of the season. It gives us so many options and gives the manager a slight headache – but I’m sure it’s a good headache to have.
We saw you watching the free-kick competition at the end of training on Monday. Was that a good example of the mentality in the squad? There’s a friendly-natured competitiveness…
We'll blame #StormCiara, @trentaa98... 👀😂 https://t.co/7k9S4S5d7z— LFC (Liverpool FC (Premier League Champions 🏆)) 11th Feb 12:31
The table tennis competitions are where it’s going to get most heated! It’s always been friendly [among the squad] but the lads want to compete against each other and that short clip showed it with Hendo, Virg and Trent. I think the lads have been giving Trent a wee bit [of stick] about his last couple of free-kicks so they wanted to show him differently. To be fair, both of them stepped up to the plate and Trent crumbled under the pressure! But that’s pressure in training and when it comes into a high-pressure situation in a game all three of them will probably be better for it. Hopefully one of them can put one of them in soon and you can see that practice makes perfect.
Trent will want to put his next one in a game into the top corner now…
Of course. And I guarantee he’ll be looking straight to Hendo and Virgil when he does it! I hope that happens. He’s got fantastic technique and hopefully it happens to prove those two wrong, as such. It helps him because it’s hard to create a game-like situation in training, in terms of the pressure, but to have your two mates in your ear, it’s the best way to show them. Hopefully we see that practice making perfect and at least one of them can put one in before the end of the season.
At the other end, you’ve only conceded once in the last 10 Premier League matches. Has anything changed? Conceding goals was something that was irritating the defenders earlier in the season…
When you look back, some of the goals we conceded were lucky or individual errors and some of them were good goals – sometimes you need to accept when a good goal goes in against you. But it was something pecking at us a bit; we were winning games but the lads wanted to get back to clean sheets. I don’t think anything has changed. But when we have gone 1-0 up we have been so good at shutting the other team out and not giving them sniffs. The lads have been playing excellently, Virg and Joe have been different class over the last 10 games. And Alisson when called upon has made the saves we need him to save. We’re all playing well defensively and we’re all trying to keep clean sheets. One goal in the last 10 games is an incredible stat and hopefully we continue that because if we keep clean sheets we don’t get beat. It’s as simple as that. That’s a good basis to go off. The lads have the confidence that when we do go 1-0 up we aren’t going to concede. But it’s all about showing that and hopefully that continues.