With Liverpool’s central defensive colossal Virgil van Dijk likely to miss the remainder of the 2020/21 season following a frankly hideous knee high challenge from Everton goalkeeper Jordan Pickford.
After scans and a trip to the specialist confirmed the centre-back had suffered damage to his ACL, the Reds chances of back to back Premier League titles have taken a huge blow.
But does the absence of the Dutchman mean Jurgen Klopp’s men cannot defend their crown?
Here’s the reasons for and against Liverpool being able to challenge without their main man.
Virgil van Dijk has undoubtedly been a major contributing factor to the recent success at Anfield. Since his arrival from Southampton in January 2018 the 29 year old has been almost a constant at the heart of the Reds defence, stopping almost all comers and solidifying a previously shaky backline.
The Netherlands captain hasn’t just brought clean sheets and the occasional towering headed goal to Klopp’s side, he has been instrumental in bringing the sixth UEFA Champions League, UEFA Super Cup, FIFA Club World Cup, and the much sought after Premier League title back to Anfield for the first time in 30 years.
His absence leaves Klopp with only Joe Gomez and Joel Matip as available out and out centre-backs, with Fabinho a willing and able deputy. As well as youngsters Billy Koumetio and Rhys Williams, who despite their obvious talents, are someway off being ready for Premier League action right now.
Clearly a huge concern for the Reds who have already shipped seven goals away to Aston Villa this term, with van Dijk in the side. Surely a team who have been so reliant on the Dutchman, who has barely missed a minute’s action since he arrived on Merseyside, can’t cope without him?
Despite the obvious hole left in the middle of the defence not only in terms of ability, but also leadership and organisationally, in a league campaign which to date has seen goals aplenty, Liverpool certainly have the firepower to cut it with the rest, and could well adopt a more pragmatic defensive approach with their remaining options, whilst going all out attack at the other end.
The Liverpool squad, whilst now low on defensive numbers, has the midfield quality to both shore up a match as well as attacking one, something which could prove pivotal whilst VVD sits out.
Another interesting plot twist could be the almost impending January transfer window. Previously the club have been reluctant to spend big without securing the finances, however, given the nature of the loss and the situation, their hand could well be forced.
Providing Klopp’s men are still within touching distance of any title race, the German boss could well be on the lookout for a big name centre-half in the mid-season window. This was most likely something that was expected to wait until next summer, however, these plans will almost certainly now be accelerated. A shrewd acquisition getting the second half of the season under his belt and a returning to full health van Dijk could well bode well for future seasons.
There is, however, some good news for the Red half of Merseyside with the impending return of their number one keeper Alisson Becker in the next week or so. The Brazilian was initially expected to be out for six to eight weeks, but it turns out he could now make an earlier than planned comeback. This will almost certainly help sure up the Premier League Champions at times shaky back line.
One final point to make for Liverpool still being capable of retaining their title is the current shape of the league. As things stand it doesn’t seem as though any potential winners will need to acquire 90+ points like they have in recent seasons, Man City with 98 in 2018/19 and Liverpool with 99 last term for example. Instead it seems this year the league could be won with far fewer points, pointing towards a level of consistency lower than we’ve seen previously – whilst Liverpool had a healthy Virgil van Dijk.
Ultimately time will of course tell and there’s no doubting the magnitude of the loss, however, there remains hope Liverpool could still mount a serous title challenge, and in truth perhaps even still run out comfortable winners. But it’s been made far harder with the absence of one of the best around over the last few seasons.