After Virgil van Dijk was examined by a specialist on Sunday, Liverpool announced that the center back will require surgery after damaging an anterior cruciate ligament against Everton. How long van Dijk will be out will be determined after surgery, but it is almost certain that the lay off will extend into the New Year.
The loss is a critical one for Liverpool. Ever since the Dutch international arrived in January 2018, he has been close to ever-present in the starting line up with 130 appearances. The improvement in Liverpool’s defense was almost instantaneous and since, van Dijk has helped Liverpool to win the UEFA Champions League, Premier League, the UEFA Super Cup, and the FIFA Club World Cup. Multiple individual honors have also flowed the 29-year-old’s way.
Van Dijk was injured in a clash with Everton goalkeeper Jordan Pickford and was substituted after just 11 minutes. His height and strength were sorely missed and both of Everton’s goals in a 2-2 draw were from headers. The first could be directly attributed to Van Dijk’s absence when Michael Keane rose above the Liverpool defense in an area normally patrolled by Van Dijk.
However, much of the controversy focused on Pickford’s challenge. A replay of the play showed Van Dijk lined up in an offside position at a Liverpool free kick. As the ball was played into the penalty area Pickford and Van Dijk clashed. Pickford lunged with two feet catching Van Dijk with a scissors motion. It was obvious that the Everton goalkeeper was totally focused on the Liverpool player and was paying scant attention to the cross.
Liverpool’s claim for a penalty was turned down as Van Dijk was ruled offside before Pickford clattered him. However, just because a player is offside it does not mean that any subsequent challenge becomes a “free shot.”
Former Premier League referee Dermot Gallagher appeared on the Premier League produced half-time show to explain the thought process of a referee in such a situation.
Once the offside was determined, Dermot Gallagher thought that match official Michael Oliver’s attention would have turned to the challenge by Pickford. Gallagher suggested that Oliver decision was between violent conduct, serious foul play or a challenge not worthy of punishment. He went on to describe violent conduct as an objective judgement while serious foul play is subjective and open to opinion.
Here is what the Laws of the Games has to say:
Violent conduct is when a player uses or attempts to use excessive force or brutality against an opponent when not challenging for the ball, or against a team-mate, team official, match official, spectator or any other person, regardless of whether contact is made.
A tackle or challenge that endangers the safety of an opponent or uses excessive force or brutality must be sanctioned as serious foul play.
Both are red card offences.
As it turned out, Oliver did nothing other than award a free kick to Everton for the offside. VAR official David Coote did not feel the challenge worthy of Oliver even taking a second look. It was a stunning decision by both officials given the severity of the challenge by Pickford.
Van Dijk was substituted and replaced by Joe Gomez. Gomez slotted in alongside Joel Matip in the center of the Liverpool back four, but van Dijk’s injury leaves Liverpool thin in that position. Defensive midfielder Fabinho has played there on occasion and it could be that the Brazil international becomes Klopp’s preference until the winter transfer window opens.
Thiago Alcántara, who was making his first start for Liverpool following his $29 million transfer from Bayern Munich last month, was also injured late in the game after a red card challenge by Everton’s Richarlison.
The good news is that Thiago’s injury is not considered serious although he will likely miss the first game in this season’s UEFA Champions League group stage against Ajax on Wednesday.
Liverpool faces six games in a period of 17 days – three each in the UEFA Champions League and the Premier League.
- Ajax away Wednesday October 21 (UCL)
- Sheffield United home Saturday October 24 (Premier)
- FC Midtjylland away Tuesday October 27 (UCL)
- West Ham home Saturday October 31 (Premier)
- Atalanta away Tuesday November 3 (UCL)
- Manchester City away Saturday November 7 (Premier)
The injuries to Van Dijk and Thiago bring Liverpool’s current injury tally to five. Goalkeeper Alisson is out with an injured shoulder with no expected return date set. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain is another player who is out indefinitely. The former Arsenal player has a knee injury. Naby Keita could return this coming weekend.
Since the start of the season Liverpool has also lost Matip, Gomez, Tsimikas, Henderson, Shaqiri and Mane to injury or illness.