One of the world's best defenders, Virgil Van Dijk will miss most if not all of the calendar season due to a ACL injury he picked up against Everton in the Merseyside Derby. What will Liverpool do without one of their most crucial players as they try to defend their Premier League title?
By: Maurcio Ponce
This weekend’s Merseyside Derby was the epitome of what a derby should be: Goals, crunching tackles, red cards and controversy. The biggest takeaway from this match was what Liverpool fans (including myself) feared most. Starting centre back and arguably world football's most talented defender Virgil Van Dijk picked up an ACL injury which could see him miss 7-8 months of football for liverpool and Holland after a horrible tackle from Jordan Pickford after chasing down a pass.
Van Dijk was offside in the play, which meant that Pickford escaped a red card after a potential career ending tackle. He was injured in only the fiftth minute, walking off in visible discomfort with Joe Gomez replacing him. Everton had the upper hand with Liverpool's defensive ace out, with their equalizer being a nice header by inform toffees forward Dominic Calvert-Lewin. The Reds could've used Van Dijk's dominance in the air on that goal.
The Dutchman has been a general in Liverpool's backline since he arrived from Southampton in a then world record fee for a defender, costing £75 million ($98 million USD). Initial reaction from the press was Liverpool overpaid for a decent centre half, but Virgil has returned his massive price tag with winning the Champions League, Premier League, FIFA Club World Cup and the UEFA Super Cup.
Since arriving in January of 2018, Van Dijk had not missed a single Premier League game, Playing 93 fixtures and winning an impressive 72 of them. His play can be summed up as calm, composed, and elegant. He is a presence in the air, winning 784 of his 1,055 aerial duels and scoring 14 goals, 11 of which were headers. He is the focal point of Liverpool build up play for setting up the attack, with ridiculous long ball accuracy (758 completed) and his calm passing, averaging 66.51 passes a game. He makes playing look effortless, having a Zidane-esque touch and is a behemoth standing at 6’4. But what fears Premier League forwards the most is his blistering pace when he his chasing them down the pitch.
Although many Liverpool fans are dreading the rest of the season, especially Wednesday's trip to Amsterdam when they face the gung-ho attacking style of play of AFC Ajax in the Champions League (Liverpool won 1-0), Jurgen Klopp isn't without options and tactics to replace Van Dijk.
The obvious one would be to slot Joel Matip in, a solid center back who was brought in by Klopp from Schalke in 2016. Another option would be for defensive midfielder Fabinho to slot in. Fabinho is a very versatile player who can play center mid, defensive mid, right back, and center back. He most recently played center back in Liverpool's 2-0 win over chelsea, where he got man of the match for keeping Timo Werner's influence on the game practically unnoticed, also keeping a clean sheet. Fabhino is a starter in Klopp's midfield, but with new signing Thiago Alcantara, he could slide back while captain Jordan Henderson slots into the defensive role. Substitute players like James Milner, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, and Takumi Minamino will have to plug in gaps in the midfield if Henderson is slotting in the Fabinho role.
If things don’t go to plan, the January transfer window isn't too far away and Liverpool could be forced to splash the cash. They were heavily linked with Ozan Kabak, the 20-year-old Turkish centre half from Schalke. He had a standout season for the German side last season, but Schalke were hesitant to sell. Howeverver, they are in a relegation dogfight in this season's Bundesliga and Kabak could force a move away.
Another option is Dayot Upamecano, the French centre half who plays at RB Leipzig. Dayot is a physical monster with scary pace and strength, but for only being 21 his market value according to transfermarkt is a cool $66 million. However after signings of Diogo Jota and Thiago in the summer window, this looks a little unrealistic.
Liverpool’s backs are against the wall after only four match days, and it's up to Klopp and his men to show whether they are the resilient and fearless team we have seen can rise up to the challenge, or if the task is too much. Its Liverpool's philosophy to rise against impossible odds, and to always believe in the impossible. If any team could do it it would be Klopp's tricky reds.