Life Without Virgil: How Liverpool Can Push On Without Their Colossus

Matthew Woods
Read Time:4 Minute, 17 Second

Written By: Mathew Woods (@IAmMattWoods)

Saturday’s Merseyside Derby was one for the history books, but for all the wrong reasons. Overshadowed by multiple refereeing blunders by Michael Oliver and VAR referee David Coote, Liverpool returned to some sense of normality following the disastrous display at Villa Park before the international break.

Sadio Mane looked back to being the main man once again, while the return of captain Jordan Henderson supplying that much needed leadership in midfield gave Liverpool that feel of domination early on against Everton that supporters have been so accustomed to over the past few years.

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But that high note was short lived after a measly 6 minutes at Goodison Park. From a cleared corner, the ball was swung in from the left towards a waiting Virgil van Dijk who was subsequently tackled in a scissor-like motion by Everton’s ‘keeper Jordan Pickford.

Replay’s of the contact clearly showed a dramatic hyperextension of van Dijk’s right knee. 

With surgery pending and his season likely finished, it looks as though the Dutch defender will be side-lined for a considerable amount of time. It will be all-hands-on-deck to replace arguably the best defender in the world.

Let’s examine the vast number of options Liverpool can turn to in this case:

Obvious Answer: Joel Matip and Joe Gomez (if they can stay injury free).

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Joel Matip’s return to the side was a much needed boost to the Reds backline, providing stability that Liverpool lacked in the early start to the season thus far. After a few errant passes, Matip settled in and evidently became the leader at the back after the van Dijk injury. 

The big question is health when it comes to both Matip and Gomez. The duo have had their fair share of injuries since joining the club and relying on them to be healthy for an extended period of time is something the club couldn’t imagine; especially after not finding a replacement for the out-going Dejan Lovren. 

Joel Matip now looks set for a brief stint on the sidelines, after opting to get scans this past week. The Cameroon international is out for the Champions League fixture against Ajax today, but could feature on the weekend at home vs Sheffield United.

Intriguing Answer: Fabinho 

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Given his defensive display against Chelsea earlier this season, he would automatically become the team’s 3rd choice center-back.

With the team looking to compete domestically and abroad, perhaps Klopp sees a permanent change to center-back for the lanky Brazilian. The confidence in Fabinho shown by Klopp makes this option ever more interesting and an even likelier possibility. 

Unsure Answer: Nat Phillips/Rhys Williams/Billy Koumetio

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Young academy prospect Rhys Williams is now in contention for more regular time with the first team.

Given his first start a few weeks ago in the Carabao Cup against Lincoln City, and holding his own in the following fixture against Arsenal, Williams has gained recognition from the fans, coaches, and teammates alike. 

Meanwhile, Billy Koumetio’s meteoric rise to becoming one of Liverpool’s top prospects now comes to the forefront.

The Frenchman is now presented with an opportunity to gain more experience with the first team. Minor injuries have hampered him on occasion, but the towering center-back has showed flashes of what his future might hold early on in pre-season.

Nat Phillips, the most experienced of the bunch, came off a decent year in 2019.

After being loaned out to Stuttgart, Phillips returned to Merseyside for the derby in the FA Cup. Phillips helped lead a young back line to a clean sheet at Anfield.

Transfer Market: 

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Liverpool have been rumoured with a number of highly talented players at center-back over the past few transfer windows. Van Dijk’s injury could lead to the Reds spending in January.

This past summer, Schalke’s Ozan Kabak was the name repeatedly thrown around by journalists throughout Europe. However, the ascent of players like Dayot Upamecano (RB Leipzig) and his center-back partner Ibrahima Konate, Ben White (Brighton), Jules Kounde (Sevilla), Milan Skriniar (Inter Milan), Evan N’Dicka (Eintracht Frankfurt) and Edmond Tapsoba (Bayer Leverkusen); all with major upside, could Liverpool be lured to one of them? 

Do they look for a stable veteran option?

David Alaba and Jerome Boateng (Bayern Munich), Kalidou Koulibaly (Napoli), James Tarkowski (Burnley), and Diego Carlos (Sevilla) could be suitable options given the price is right for Liverpool as they look for a temporary replacement until van Dijk returns. 

Obviously, no option thrown out there will compare to having van Dijk on the pitch. However, with the talent in this squad, the opportunity for trophies still remains.

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