| 4.7°C Dublin

virgil woes Why Liverpool's Premier League crown is there for the taking and the surprise contender ready to take it

While Van Dijk starts his recovery Pickford turned out against Southampton

Close

Fabinho’s solid performance against Ajax in Champions League will bring hope to Liverpool fans. Photo: John Powell/ Getty Images

Fabinho’s solid performance against Ajax in Champions League will bring hope to Liverpool fans. Photo: John Powell/ Getty Images

Liverpool FC via Getty Images

Fabinho’s solid performance against Ajax in Champions League will bring hope to Liverpool fans. Photo: John Powell/ Getty Images

It feels like Liverpool are in a holding position now as they get used to life without Virgil van Dijk.

Liverpool found a way to win against Sheffield United at the wekend, but you could sense the opposition felt they had a chance with Van Dijk no longer part of the equation.

Another fine display from Mohamed Salah and a couple of well worked goals secured the three points against a spirited Blades side, yet there is a sense that Liverpool are still feeling groggy after all that has happened.

Van Dijk is a victim of an injustice here and that will be felt by all his team-mates.

The way it happened made it all the more difficult to take because it was a wild challenge by Everton keeper Jordan Pickford and he should have been punished.

Yet while Van Dijk will miss the entire season with the knee injury inflicted on him, Pickford will be playing for Everton against Southampton today. That doesn't seem right, on a number of levels.

Close

The awful tackle by Richarlison on Thiago will change his reputation with fellow professionals

The awful tackle by Richarlison on Thiago will change his reputation with fellow professionals

Liverpool FC via Getty Images

The awful tackle by Richarlison on Thiago will change his reputation with fellow professionals

I think Pickford was clumsy and stupid rather than malicious in his tackle on Van Dijk, with Richarlison's violent assault on Thiago's leg at the end of that game a very different type of challenge.

Richarlison went into that lunge with menacing intent and could have put Thiago in a hospital as a result, so the three-game ban he got should be extended.

That was a reckless challenge and his reputation among his fellow professionals will have nose-dived as a result.

As for Pickford, maybe his time will come.

He was lucky to get away with his moment of madness, but his moment may come as if he lunges into an opponent like that again, referees will be aware of his past record.

He might end up getting sent off for a challenge that might not have raised alarm bells before the Van Dijk incident and if that is the case, it will be belated justice.

Yet that won't help Liverpool now.

I mentioned in my Sunday World column last weekend that Van Dijk's absence will loosen Liverpool's grip on the Premier League title and Fabinho's impressive performance as a stand-in centre-back against Ajax on Wednesday night does not change my view on that.

Classy

Close

Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp

Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp

PA

Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp

What this classy Brazilian can do is give Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp some kind of back-up plan as he tries to work out what to do next.

We all wondered how Fabinho would perform in the heart of the defence without Van Dijk alongside him and he answered a few questions in Amsterdam.

His reading of the game is superb and even though he is a natural midfielder, you can see has a great understanding of how to defend.

His is a clean tackler and when you saw him hook the ball off the line as Ajax threatened to score, it confirmed he is player who understood the art of defending.

My concern would be that he has not played in the position too often in his career and it will be interesting to see how he reacts if he has a game when a striker is getting the better of him.

Let's say he is being given the runaround by a quick forward or maybe a powerful striker and he is struggling to handle him.

Will he have what it takes to get through that test?

Klopp's other big issue at the back has to be the fitness of Joel Matip and Joe Gomez, with both of them struggling to avoid injuries for sustained periods.

If Liverpool were to lose one or both of them now, they would be dipping into the pool of youngsters to fill in at centre-back and that would make it tough to win games in the Premier League and Champions League consistently.

I still feel Liverpool will need to invest in a central defender when the transfer window opens for business and while it will be tough to find a quality player in January, it may be needed to keep their ambitions for this season on track.

What the events at Goodison Park last weekend will have done is given the chasing pack hope that Liverpool can be knocked off their perch as champions.

The bookies had Manchester City as pre-season title favourites, but Liverpool were the team to beat until it was confirmed Van Dijk's knee injury was so serious.

Now, however, I feel this could be a season when another club emerges from the pack and has a run at the title. It could be Jose Mourinho's Tottenham.

I know they threw away a 3-0 lead against West Ham last weekend and they haven't won anything of note since the days when I was in nappies.

Yet I look at the squad Jose Mourinho is working with and a front line of Harry Kane, Gareth Bale and Son Heung-min is as good as it gets in world football.

Nerve

They have quality back-up in all positions, quality performers in key areas and a manager who has won trophies enough times to hold his nerve if he can get his side in the mix again.

Spurs will win a lot of matches this season with the attacking options they have in their team and I fancy them to get a win at Burnley tomorrow night and put themselves right in the mix for the title this season.

Despite my pessimism over the absence of Van Dijk, I wouldn't write Liverpool out of the race for major trophies this season as they still have a team loaded with proven performers and world-class players.

Sunday World


Privacy