Virgil van Dijk is out and Liverpool face life without the hulking centre-back anchoring the defence. For how long is anyone’s guess after Jordan Pickford’s ridiculous flying double-legged lunge, something more appropriate for the UFC than Premier League, caused a Grade 3 ACL tear.
The centre-back has been the rock in Liverpool’s defence since arriving in January 2018 from Southampton. In his two full seasons at Anfield, Van Dijk played in each of Liverpool’s Premier League games, racking up an incredible 6,808 minutes of football in the two seasons combined.
How important was Van Dijk to Liverpool’s title in 2019-20? He played every minute of Premier League football for the Reds. While centre-back partners Dejan Lovren, Joe Gomez, and Joel Matip shuffled in and out of the lineup due to various fitness and injury issues, Van Dijk was the one constant in the centre of defence.
How long is Van Dijk out?
Liverpool have not specified when Van Dijk will return, if at all this season. An ACL tear can take months to come back from even with advances in modern medicine. A Grade 3 ACL injury is one of the worst possible knee injuries Van Dijk could have suffered. Grade 3 means there is a complete tear to the ACL ligament and medical experts refer to an ACL injury as a Grade 3 when the ligament splits into two pieces.
Watching Van Dijk walk off the pitch on Saturday at Goodison Park gave supporters and the club hope that the injury wasn’t as bad as it initially looked. Over the last two and a half seasons, Liverpool supporters have seen Van Dijk get up from every knock down, tumble, and tackle. However, this time, the Dutchman is set for a long period on the sidelines.
Do Liverpool have suitable replacements?
Making Van Dijk’s injury worse for Liverpool is the lack of quality defenders in the team that can slot into centre-back. Matip returned to the team at Goodison Park and put in a classy performance. Unfortunately, Matip, who partnered Van Dijk during the Champions League winning season, is injury-prone.
There are already worries that he picked up a new fitness issue against Everton. Meanwhile, Gomez is in awful form. In spite of the occasional solid performance in 2019-20, Gomez showed himself to be more mistake-prone than anything.
Lovren stepped in for Liverpool when needed last season as a four-choice centre-back. However, he departed Liverpool in the summer for Zenit St. Petersburg. Fabinho has played in the position and performed well. He partnered Van Dijk in an impressive display, beating Chelsea 2-0 at Stamford Bridge in September.
Nat Phillips kept to provide cover
Reports now indicate Liverpool have backtracked on their initial decision to let defender Nat Phillips leave. Liverpool loaned out Harvey Elliott, Harry Wilson and Ben Woodburn with Phillips set to join them.
Phillips will now provide cover in the wake of Van Dijk’s absence. After helping Stuttgart achieve promotion to the Bundesliga last season in Germany, Phillips now has the opportunity to prove he belongs at Anfield.
Fears of Van Dijk’s injury being the end of a title challenge should be tempered. The Reds have shown in the past that they can win without their stars in the line-up. Their epic 4-0 win versus Barcelona in the Champions League 2018-19 was without Mohamed Salah and Roberto Firmino. The big difference is Liverpool now have 33 league games to play rather than just one Champions League semifinal.