Liverpool fans are having a feel of the horror Manchester City fans went through last season. The defending champions have confirmed that their best centre-back Virgil Van Dijk suffered damage to the anterior cruciate ligament in his knee in the Merseyside derby.
Everton goalkeeper Jordan Pickford was saved from getting his matching orders after VAR confirmed Van Dijk was offside in the build up to the challenge that led to the injury. But the Reds’ centre-back could be sidelined for months after undergoing surgery.
It’s a similar injury to the one suffered by Aymeric Laporte at the beginning of last season. The Frenchman was so important to City that his long-term absence practically cost the team the Premier League title. The capitulation began at Norwich where John Stones and Nicolas Otamendi partnered at the heart of defence and the team never recovered.
Conversely, Van Dijk was solid as a rock at the back for Jurgen Klopp’s side leaving Sadio Mane and Mohammed Salah to complete the job upfront. The rest of the team followed the lead thereby blowing away a competition already in crutches.
The Reds’ dominant performance last term led to predictions they will retain the league title. But the new season is not going according to plan. They have already begun the campaign on a shaky note with 13 goals conceded in five league matches. A surprise 7-2 mauling at the hands of Aston Villa set the alarm bells ringing.
But Van Dijk’s long layoff could yet prove catastrophic if the team fails to readjust.
Fortunately for Klopp, midfielder Fabinho has shown much promise when the back. The Brazilian was recently drafted to the centre of defence against Chelsea and passed the test with flying colours. He helped the team secure a vital win keeping a clean sheet in the process.
However, playing alongside Van Dijk is not the same as with Joe Gomez or Joel Matip. The latter has been plagued by injuries, limiting his game time which could affect his form. The Netherlands international also brings leadership and confidence that cannot be easily replicated by the duo.
Failure to find the solidity and synergy that has made the team so monstrous in the last two years could lead to problems. Such problems as the ones faced by Pep Guardiola and his team last term when things fell apart at the back.
There’s a big question though. Can City take advantage like the Reds did last term and stake a claim for the league crown?
A lot will depend on the players staying fit and Guardiola getting the best from his troops once again. The team has been rocked by injuries and effects of Covid-19 early on. All of Kevin De Bruyne, Oleksandr Zinchenko, Benjamin Mendy, Gabriel Jesus and Laporte are injured at the moment.
Thankfully, the new defensive signings are proving to be money well spent. The recent win over Arsenal capped with a clean sheet showed grit. Using the available tools to achieve important goals will be very important moving forward.
With all the big teams faltering at the beginning of the campaign, City can take the initiative to navigate to the front of the queue and lead the way. But that will depend mainly on the manager’s approach and how he motivates his players to get the job done.