Liverpool’s Growing Injury List Is the Biggest Test of Their Title Defence Credentials

Virgil van Dijk
Van Dijk was the latest to suffer an injury blow | Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images

A narrative peddled last season in an effort to dampen Liverpool’s dominance centred around their seemingly faultless injury record.

Granted, they didn’t suffer long-term injuries to any of their key stars, but there were noteworthy absentees; Alisson Becker, Naby Keita, Fabinho, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain (when isn’t he?) and Joel Matip were the picks of the bunch.

This time around, and just five matches into their maiden Premier League title defence, all aggrieved Liverpool fans whose blood boiled at the mere mention of a non-existent injury list can now really make their voices heard.

A thoroughly entertaining 2-2 draw with Everton came and went on Saturday afternoon in barnstorming fashion, but not without casualties. Virgil van Dijk has been ruled out indefinitely and will undergo surgery on a torn anterior cruciate ligament, after a knee-high horror tackle from Everton goalkeeper Jordan Pickford.

Alisson’s injury had already prompted city-wide terror in Liverpool – Adrian has had some memorable moments in goal for the club, but they’re dotted about so infrequently they’ve become almost forgotten entirely.

The first goal Everton scored at Goodison Park acted as a timely reminder that Alisson is – without a wealth of cash, at least – irreplaceable. Adrian’s fragile fingers are a far cry from his teammate’s dynamic distribution.

But it does get worse. Oxlade-Chamberlain remains injured (albeit with a fresh setback) but that one can be somewhat disregarded given that he isn’t knocking on the door of the first team anyway.

Yet the horrific, unpunished challenge from Pickford on Virgil van Dijk will be most telling of all. The undisputed – perhaps slightly disputed on recent form – best central defender in the world could be out for the season.

No first-choice goalkeeper or central defender will lead to questions being asked of Liverpool that many ‘neutrals’ have been craving; a true test of their squad depth in their strongest areas. Can they cope?

Joe Gomez performed superbly in the run to Champions League glory and the Premier League title, but did so alongside his Dutch partner in crime. There is no masking the fact that he’s an infinitely better player in that pairing.

Fortunately for Jurgen Klopp, Joel Matip returned for the Everton match from his own injury issues, but Van Dijk’s totemic presence in that back line will still be sorely missed. This is someone who played every minute of their title-winning campaign, making it 74 consecutive 90-minute displays in the Premier League.

Jurgen Klopp, Thiago AlcantaraJurgen Klopp, Thiago Alcantara
Thiago felt discomfort after the game | Catherine Ivill/Getty Images

In midfield new arrival Thiago showed the world, one that needs no reminding, just how elegant he can be with a magnificent second-half display against the Toffees. It may not be anything long-term, but he too could be set for a spell on the sidelines as a result of Richarlison’s late horror tackle.

Liverpool have, obviously, coped without him before, but while the potential to shift Fabinho into central defence may have been a viable option, it looks like he’ll have to play in midfield to accommodate any Thiago absence.

Their strike force remains untouched and unplayable, yet two central defenders – one shaky without his captain alongside him and another who has just returned from injury – in front of a goalkeeper no side in the division would fancy in between the sticks, ensures Klopp’s side won’t have it easy.

These three are Liverpool players, though. Not Alisson or Van Dijk calibre, sure, but still playing for a club who’ve just won the league at a canter. Their fixture list has been fairly kind to them for the next four matches – barring Ajax away in the Champions League – but the rigours of playing twice a week will weigh heavy at time they’d prefer they eased off.

Jurgen KloppJurgen Klopp
No Van Dijk, no Alisson. Tough ask for Klopp. | Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images

One thing is for sure, Klopp won’t alter his approach. There may be more room for bodies in central areas to help shield his side’s newfound weakness, but there won’t be a sudden re-writing of the winning formula he’s garnered great success with. Pragmatism won’t appear overnight.

Now is a time for all those who found a way to discredit Liverpool last season – it was all clutching at straws, to be truthful – to get their answer. Equally, it’s time for the Reds to silence a few critics.

For more from Ross Kennerley, follow him on Twitter!

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