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Liverpool will not retain title without Virgil

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Virgil van Dijk is so important to Liverpool that his absence could tilt the title race

Virgil van Dijk is so important to Liverpool that his absence could tilt the title race

PA

Virgil van Dijk is so important to Liverpool that his absence could tilt the title race

Liverpool's season may well have been destroyed by the news that Virgil van Dijk is out for the rest of the season.

That might sound like a bit of an over-reaction when the champions of England have lost one player, but this is no ordinary player.

This is the best defender in world football and his importance to everything Liverpool have achieved over the last couple of years cannot be underestimated.

Jurgen Klopp's team have shown they can get away with losing keeper Alisson Becker, captain Jordan Henderson or strikers Sadio Mane and Mohamed Salah for a few games, but Van Dijk is the one they can't do without.

So I now believe the cruciate ligament injury to Liverpool's defensive talisman will make it very difficult for them to retain the Premier League title.

Winning back-to-back English league titles is a tough task, but I look at that Liverpool defence now and while Joe Gomez and Joel Matip are good players, you wonder how they will perform without the magnificent presence of Van Dijk alongside them.

Dropped back

Fabinho has looked good when he has dropped back into the heart of the defence at times, but again he has had Van Dijk next to him on those occasions and things might be different without the main man there.

In addition, Matip and Gomez have been injury-prone over the last couple of seasons and Matip is not avaialble for the clash against Ajax, proving that the problems created by Van Dijk's exit will multiply quickly.

Liverpool had big defensive problems until they went out and bought Alisson Becker and Van Dijk to plug two major holes a couple of years back and you would imagine that some of those issues will be exposed once again after this injury.

Now the opposition will be eyeing up that Liverpool defence and thinking they can get at it and I wonder whether Klopp needs to be inventive in the way he tackles this season in the absence of his defensive leader.

They have looked shaky at the back in the opening weeks of the season with Van Dijk in the team and now they head into tonight's Champions League clash with big questions to answer.

Liverpool's midfield has a role to play in protecting the back four, but I wonder whether Klopp will now abandon the tactic of playing a higher defensive line that has not been overly convincing in the opening month of this new season.

It might be that he needs to drop the defensive line back, try to play with a little more caution and look to the front three of Salah, Mane and Roberto Firmino to win matches and he tries to get to January 1 without too much damage inflicted on the season.

The option of using Fabinho in that role looked decent when Van Dijk was in the mix, but they look horribly short in that key position now and it means a move into the transfer market might now be the only solution.

Average

Finding a top-class centre-back in January will not be easy and when you look at Manchester City settling for an average player like Nathan Ake when they tried to solve their defensive problems last summer, it highlights how tough it will be to make a big signing in January.

A player like Napoli's Kalidou Koulibaly might fit the bill as he has qualities similar to Van Dijk, but he is 29 and would probably be far too expensive for Liverpool both in the transfer fee and in wages.

So there is no easy solution to the biggest nightmare Klopp and Liverpool have been dreading, with Liverpool's first big test after they were rocked by the Van Dijk injury coming tonight in Amsterdam.

Ajax could have been Liverpool's opponents in the 2019 Champions League final and while they have sold a lot of the stars from that team, they remain a strong opening opponent away from home. Klopp's side has not kept too many clean sheets in recent months and you would expect that problem to continue now, so it will fall to the attacking elements of the teams to outscore the opposition if they are to keep their ambitions on track.

Liverpool have the firepower in the final third to trouble any team in Europe and the best answer to those who feel the champions are about to be knocked off their perch would be to go and batter Ajax tonight.

This team are more than capable of doing that in a one-off game, but to score three or four goals a game in a season when matches are being crammed into a tight schedule and more injuries are inevitable might not be realistic.

Liverpool were a country mile ahead of the opposition as they romped away with the Premier League title last season, but all that advantage has evaporated in an instant with the Van Dijk injury.


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