If ever we needed an example of Virgil van Dijk’s importance to Liverpool, we’ve just witnessed it. The build up to the 237th instalment of the Merseyside derby was dominated by what the midfield and front three would look like, and it seems like we’ve taken the Dutchman for granted.
That won’t be the case now, though, after he was withdrawn in the early stages of the 2-2 draw against Everton after picking up an injury following a challenge from Jordan Pickford. The details of the injury are not yet known, and we can only hope that he isn’t on the sidelines for too long. Let’s try and avoid mentioning VAR from now, shall we.
The early minutes of the game saw Liverpool at their fluent best. One-touch passes and intricate moves all over the pitch opened up Everton’s defence with ease, and it didn’t take long for the initial game plan to make it’s mark. Sadio Mané, how many more superlatives do we need to describe his quality and overall impact to this team?
Can we also just take a moment to admire and appreciate how good Thiago Alcântara is? His movement on and of the ball is a joy to watch, and was arguably the best player on the pitch. An honourable mention as well to Mohamed Salah, for notching his 100th goal for Liverpool.
Jordan Henderson had a chance to double Liverpool’s advantage, and the visitors had their Merseyside rivals on the ropes. Then came Pickford’s challenge, and suddenly the game had a completely different perspective. It was one of the fiercest of derbies that we have seen for many a year, with Richarlison handed his marching orders in the closing stages, and arguably should have been joined by the Everton goalkeeper for what he did to Van Dijk.
After what seemed like only seconds after Van Dijk left the pitch, Everton had a new lease of life, and Liverpool look shell-shocked. It’s the first time that he hasn’t completed a Premier League game since September 2018, a run of 74 matches.
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This was a new challenge for Liverpool, and you’d struggle to argue the point that they got away with it, because in truth, they didn’t. Not one bit. Will we look back on this stalemate as a point gained or two dropped? Once the dust settles it may edge towards the former, but given what happened in the closing stages that seems rather unlikely.
If Van Dijk is out for the foreseeable future, then Liverpool face a real test to cope without their star defender. You only have to look at Everton’s first goal to see what they miss when he’s not out there. Height, an aerial threat in the box and a commanding presence to deal with set-pieces, all of which were lacking which led to Michael Keane’s equaliser.
And then for Dominic Calvert-Lewin’s goal, another cross into the box that is not dealt with. Had Van Dijk been on the pitch, would the striker have got into such a strong position to score? Who knows, we can only speculate. One thing is certain, when he isn’t in the team the void that is left is greater than many of us would like it to be.
There were other instances which show just how important Van Dijk is to the team, too. His organisational skills are second to none, certainly at Liverpool. The way he gets himself and his team mates in the right position is key to the way the high-line tactic, in particular, is enforced. There were a host of occasions, particularly in the first half, where the Everton forwards seemed to run in behind Liverpool defence at will. Once Jürgen Klopp got his message across at half time, those seemed to drop off, but it was clear that something, or rather someone, was missing and we all know who that was.
If you combine the loss of Van Dijk with the absence of Alisson Becker, Liverpool are about to enter uncharted territory, and at Goodison, we got a glimpse of what this alternate reality will be like. It certainly looks more unsettled than we have been accustomed to seeing in recent times.
Van Dijk and Alisson have been vital to Liverpool’s rise to the summit of English, European and world football. Now Liverpool face an unforeseen spell with neither available for selection. The club’s medical team will no doubt be working around the clock to make sure the pair get back to full fitness as soon as possible.