Liverpool striker Danny Ings suffers another cruel injury blow
Football is a cruel business, but it can be crueller to some than it is to others. Just ask Danny Ings. The Liverpool striker looks set to miss the rest of the 2016-17 as he requires surgery to correct cartilage damage on his right knee, just over a year after he suffered a devastating ACL injury to his other knee when Jurgen Klopp first arrived to the club.
The former Burnley frontman was already having to bide his time for first-team action this season after his seven-month layoff and had only made two appearances -- both as substitutes in the EFL Cup.
But in last month's tie with Tottenham Hotspur at Anfield, Ings was dealt yet another devastating blow. After receiving a standing ovation from the crowd when he came on in the second half, Ings injured himself while attempting to win the ball back in a tackle. A scan has now revealed he could be out of action for up to nine months.
Anfield had willed the 24-year-old to find the back of net that night, such is the high regard they hold him in. The staff at Liverpool feel the same and sources told ESPN FC in the summer that the Reds had rejected advances from eight Premier League clubs -- including one who indicated they were prepared to pay £20 million -- who enquired about the possibility of signing Ings.
Klopp was adamant that the one-cap England international was firmly part of his plans going forward, however Ings found himself on the fringes as he was proving his fitness. The success of Liverpool's forwards at the start of the season only made it harder to break into the XI as Klopp stuck with continuity in the final third.
As a result, Ings has regularly featured for Liverpool's Under-23 side this season, but not begrudgingly so. Indeed, he has flourished in Michael Beale's side and proved he is far too good for that level by scoring seven goals for the Reds' second string.
Dropping down also gave Ings the opportunity to prove his professionalism. Some players may have turned their nose up at the newly-formed Premier League 2 but Ings played as hard in those games as he would for any Premier League fixture. His workrate and application was of the highest standard, so much so that Beale told young American striker Brooks Lennon to replicate exactly what Ings had been doing for the U23s ahead of a recent fixture.
The staff at Liverpool's academy have been mightily impressed following their encounters with Ings, believing him to be an exemplary example for their youngsters to follow. He had made it impossible for Klopp not to take notice of his recent contributions.
"He takes the situation in the perfect way but that's all for him," Klopp said ahead of the Spurs game. "He had a long-term injury, he's not injured anymore, he's fit, he's good, he plays in the U23s -- that's all for his career and everything. How he is doing with this attitude, everything will be good at the end."
Sadly that looks no longer to be the case and, while it would have been difficult for Ings to have forced his way into Liverpool's starting XI this season -- given the current form of Sadio Mane, Roberto Firmino and Philippe Coutinho, in addition to the fact strikers Daniel Sturridge and Divock Origi currently occupy spots on the substitutes' bench -- there may have been the chance for the No. 28 to get game-time in the new year.
With Mane heading off to the African Nations Cup with Senegal in January and the ever-present threat of injuries, Liverpool would have loved to have had someone like Ings to call upon. But now he must focus on the long game: get fit again and, if European football is delivered to Anfield next season, Ings can boost the club when squad rotation start to take effect again.
If he can get back to his top level then he would arguably be one of the best fourth-choice strikers around, and more than good enough for group-stage encounters in European competition. But it will be tough not to feel hard done by right now. Another long road to recovery awaits and, as his manager put it: "He deserves better luck than this."
Glenn is ESPN FC's Liverpool correspondent. You can follow him on Twitter: @GlennPrice94.