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Injury Blow for Van Dijk
A Merseyside Derby is always a tense affair. There are no shortage of controversies when the two clubs meet and Saturday afternoon was no different. Within the first ten minutes of the top of the table clash, Liverpool centre-back Virgil van Dijk hobbled off the pitch. For Liverpool fans, the sight of their defensive anchor exiting the game through injury may almost feel as bad as the heavy defeat they suffered at the hands of Aston Villa a couple of weeks back.
“As bad as Roy Keane on Haaland”
Former Ireland international Tony Cascarino didn’t hold back when voicing his opinion. A cross into the box which resulted in Everton stopper Jordan Pickford lunging at Van Dijk in an attempt to win the ball. Except Pickford got nowhere near the ball, instead taking out the Dutchman. In any other game this is a straight red card and a penalty to Liverpool. However, VAR decided to overlook the blaringly obvious red card offence and was more concerned about a potential offside. Pickford somehow got away with it. The same cannot be said for Van Dijk unfortunately. He now faces a lengthy spell on the side-line having undergone knee surgery on a ruptured ACL. He took to social media last night, vowing to return back “better, fitter and stronger than ever before”.
— Virgil van Dijk (@VirgilvDijk) October 18, 2020
Jordan Pickford may still face a retrospective ban after Liverpool appealed the decision after the game. Any potential ban for the goalkeeper will only paper over the cracks at Liverpool, who will have to now rely on Joe Gomez and Joel Matip, at least until January. A huge blow for the Premier League champions. Van Dijk transformed a lacklustre defence when he arrived midway through the 2017/18 season. The statistics don’t lie either, as Guardian’s Jonathan Wilson highlighted; during Van Dijk’s first two full seasons at Anfield, Liverpool won 75% of the games he started in contrast to 40% when he was missing from the starting line-up.
Problems at Liverpool?
Yet things haven’t been all rosy for Liverpool this season, even with their star defender in the team. Jurgen Klopp was quick to shoot down Roy Keane after their win against Arsenal. The former Manchester United midfielder alluded to Klopp’s men being “sloppy” at times. But does Keane have a point?
Liverpool have conceded 13 goals so far this season, including three at home to Leeds United on the opening day and seven away to Aston Villa. This tally exceeds one third of the total number of goals they conceded last season (33). After the first five games last season, Liverpool had only conceded four goals.
‘You can’t judge a team after five games’ is what any football fan would rightly respond when statistics of this nature are being waved about. Considering the quick turnaround and a subsequent lack of pre-season, this is a valid point.
However, this form isn’t all that new. Since Klopp’s side were knocked out of the Champions League back February, the defence hasn’t performed to the high standard we are used to seeing. In the final 12 games of last season’s campaign, Liverpool shipped 18 goals. This was over half over last season’s total in only less than a third of the fixtures. Again we will fall back on ‘the hard to judge’ verdict as it is inevitable for the a team, who were so dominant and who had the league wrapped up with a month of games left, to take their foot off the gas.
So is there actually a problem at Liverpool or is the title-winning season too high of a metric to compare to? Only time will tell of course. A Virgil Van Dijk-sized hole in the defence will certainly impact their title defence. On the other hand, rivals Manchester City and Chelsea both have their respective frailties to deal with. It has been a unique beginning to the new campaign as Everton and Aston Villa occupy first and second spot. It makes for a compelling season, with a host of teams vying for the top spot.