Liverpool face the prospect of being without Virgil Van Dijk for several months after it was confirmed their key defender requires knee surgery – but they are reluctant to rule him out for the season.
News of anterior cruciate ligament damage to the 29-year-old, sustained in a controversial high challenge by Everton goalkeeper Jordan Pickford in Saturday’s 2-2 Merseyside derby draw, is the nightmare scenario for the Reds.
“Following surgery, Van Dijk will begin a rehabilitation programme with the club’s medical team to enable him to reach full fitness as soon as possible,” a club statement said.
Virgil van Dijk will undergo surgery on the knee injury sustained during Saturday’s 2-2 draw at @Everton.
Following surgery, Virgil will begin a rehabilitation programme to enable him to reach full fitness as soon as possible.
You'll come back stronger, @VirgilvDijk 💪
— Liverpool FC (@LFC) October 18, 2020
Not only does the injury rob them of one of their most influential players for the majority of their Premier League title defence, but also leaves Liverpool with just two senior centre-backs in Joel Matip, who has been plagued by niggling injuries himself, and Joe Gomez.
Jurgen Klopp opted not to replace Dejan Lovren when he left for Zenit St Petersburg in the summer and was content to gamble on utilising midfielder Fabinho as cover.
The damage suffered in his clash with Pickford, for which the Everton goalkeeper escaped punishment due to VAR official David Coote overlooking the tackle after ruling on the Holland captain’s offside in the build-up, means Van Dijk will have to have an operation.
However, club sources are unwilling to write off his season just yet, considering the player’s previously excellent fitness record, and remain hopeful he can still play a part in the campaign at some point.
It leaves Klopp with an immediate headache as he faces having to field the untested pair of Matip, whose return in the Merseyside derby was his first appearance since the opening day, and Gomez, who was dropped at the weekend after some recent patchy form.
The 23-year-old Nat Phillips, with just one FA Cup appearance to his name either side of two loan spells at Stuttgart last season, is now the back-up option, with the highly-rated but unproven 17-year-old Billy Koumetio another alternative.
Liverpool’s defence has looked leaky already this season, conceding 13 goals in five matches, including seven at Aston Villa, with Van Dijk in the back four, so his absence for any length of time would raise real questions about their chances of staying the distance in a title race.
Klopp, however, was keen to throw his backing behind Gomez after a shaky couple of weeks.
I wish you a speedy recovery big man pic.twitter.com/8kbK9rjy8O
— Mohamed Salah (@MoSalah) October 18, 2020
“The set-piece (for Everton’s first) was unlucky because Virgil was not on the pitch, we sorted it in the game but it was the first corner when he was not on the pitch,” he said.
“Joe Gomez played a sensational game, a good game. I am not worried about the boys.
“The problem we have at the moment is that I am not really in a good mood, I have injured players in the dressing room and that is not good.”
The news on midfielder Thiago Alcantara, who also went for a scan on a knee problem sustained in the tackle which saw Richarlison sent off late on, is slightly more promising.
Liverpool have to wait for the injury to settle but are optimistic it is not serious, although their £20m summer signing from Bayern Munich is unlikely to feature this week against Ajax.
The club have lodged a request with the Premier League asking for a review of the Merseyside derby VAR decisions.
They have asked why Pickford’s challenge on Van Dijk was not considered for a red card just because the Dutchman had been ruled offside by a replay and also for an explanation on the mechanics which saw Sadio Mane ruled offside in the build-up to what would have been a Jordan Henderson added-time winner.
Liverpool are also understood to be concerned by the confusing and contradictory messaging emanating from the Premier League.
While not calling into question of the integrity of officials, the club believe it is crucial to have more transparency around how and why the outcomes were determined for the integrity of the game for everyone and the safety of players. Conflicting versions of events, it is understood, have left Liverpool officials deeply troubled.