The Merseyside derby left ramifications that could impact the entire Premier League season, and perhaps no incident could be as significant as the moment Jordan Pickford lunged into Virgil van Dijk and left the Liverpool defender limping away from potentially a large chunk of his side’s title defence.
With Van Dijk requiring knee surgery after suffering anterior cruciate ligament damage, Liverpool are set to be without their talismanic defender for the foreseeable future. The current timescale is unknown, but such operations result in months out.
It obviously weakens Liverpool’s hand, and of course offers others hope in the title race.
Having signed Van Dijk and Alisson Becker to fix their problems at the back – two expensive but worthwhile solutions given they have so far contributed towards a Champions League and Premier League trophy – Liverpool must now hope their influence rubs off.
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Virgil van Dijk will miss a significant chunk of Liverpool's season
Image credit: Getty Images
Time for Gomez and Matip to step up
Alisson should return by November to replace Adrian, but Van Dijk’s long-term absence means it is time to see what Joe Gomez and Joel Matip are made of, what they have picked up from their team-mate, and perhaps even how the Dutchman can wield his influence from the sidelines.
Fabinho, too, is now very much the back-up centre-back, but barring injury it is Gomez and Matip who will be the partnership charged with ensuring Van Dijk’s absence is not too sorely felt.
Given Van Dijk started every league match last season, the one before too, and all five so far in this one – he has started all-but one league game for Liverpool since he joined – it is difficult to go back and analyse how Matip and Gomez have fared together without him, for it was way back in 2017, pre-Van Dijk, when the pair were joined by Dejan Lovren and Alberto Moreno in a faltering defence.
Three years on Gomez has matured since moving to centre-back, and now the pressure is on the 23 year old to lead by example as he enters uncharted territory with Matip.
Comparisons to Laporte?
The absence of Aymeric Laporte was a damaging blow for Manchester City last season, with the defender avoiding an ACL injury but still requiring a knee operation which resulted in the centre-back missing six months of action.
As someone who knows the feeling, Laporte posted his condolences to Van Dijk on Twitter on Monday morning.
Comparisons are ultimately being drawn given the fact City failed in their title defence last season as Laporte missed 19 straight league matches when out, starting 14 overall.
The injury fell four games in to City’s league campaign, Van Dijk’s has fallen five into Liverpool’s, and without Laporte City lost their first match 3-2 to Norwich and went on to concede 24 goals in that 19-game run, also losing to Wolves, Liverpool, Manchester United and Wolves again.
In the 14 league matches Laporte started last season, City conceded just six.
That tells its own story, but given City have been suffering from a spate of injuries themselves it is not just Van Dijk’s injury which could have a telling influence on the season.
Sergio Aguero only just returned for City, Gabriel Jesus’s return date is unknown, Kevin De Bruyne missed the match against Arsenal, while even Laporte has only started one match this season.
With the schedule so packed, further injuries are likely to follow, but unless Everton and Aston Villa can sustain their incredible starts it appears the most important meeting pre-Christmas will be City’s November 7 match at home to Liverpool – let’s see who’s in and out the sides by then, although we know for sure there will be no Van Dijk.
Virgil van Dijk
Image credit: Getty Images
Van Dijk: I’ll return better and stronger
On social media, Van Dijk posted: "This afternoon, I met with a leading consultant to start the process of planning the finer details of my rehabilitation following the incident yesterday. I'm now fully focused on my recovery and will do everything I can to be back as quickly as possible.
"Despite the obvious disappointment, I'm a firm believer that within difficulty lies opportunity and with God's help I'm going to make sure I return better, fitter and stronger than ever before.
"In football, as in life, I believe everything happens for a reason and it's important to try and keep level-headed whether going through the highs or the lows. With the support of my wife, kids and family and everyone at Liverpool, I'm ready for the challenge ahead.
"I'd like to thank everyone for the messages of support. It's meant a huge amount to me and my family, and I'll now be doing everything possible to support my team-mates in any way I can ahead of a big few weeks as I take my own recovery day by day. I'll be back."