Virgil van Dijk Liverpool 2019-20Getty Images

Liverpool rocked as Van Dijk faces months out with serious knee injury

Liverpool will be without Virgil van Dijk for a number of months after confirming that the defender suffered serious knee ligament damage in Saturday’s Merseyside derby.

Van Dijk was forced off just 11 minutes into the Reds’ 2-2 draw at Everton on Saturday following a reckless challenge from Blues goalkeeper Jordan Pickford.

He was sent for a hospital scan immediately after the game, and visited a specialist on Sunday to ascertain the full extent of the issue. 

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The news which came back was devastating for the Premier League champions. Van Dijk has suffered damage to his anterior cruciate ligament, which will require surgery and will keep him out of action for an extended period. 

Liverpool have refused to give an exact timeframe for his recovery, with club sources refusing to rule out the possibility of the 29-year-old returning to action before the end of the season. The club's medical staff believe his exceptional attitude and mentality will give him every chance of reducing the lay-off time.

What is certain, though, is that Van Dijk will miss the majority of Liverpool’s Premier League title defence, as well as the bulk of their Champions League campaign.

It is shattering news for Jurgen Klopp, who was left distinctly unamused by Pickford’s challenge – as well as the fact the Everton man was not shown a red card for such a reckless lunge. 

Reds captain Jordan Henderson revealed that the England number one had sought him out at the final whistle, asking him to pass on an apology to Van Dijk, but Liverpool have contacted the Premier League asking it to review the application of VAR during the game, having been further incensed at seeing a winning goal, scored by Henderson, ruled out for a questionable offside against Sadio Mane.

The two points dropped, though, pale into insignificance when compared to Van Dijk’s injury. The Dutchman has become a totemic figure at Anfield since arriving from Southampton for £75 million ($97m) in January 2018, a player Klopp knows will be impossible to replace at the heart of his defence.

Jordan Pickford Virgil Van Dijk 2020Getty

Van Dijk had, prior to this weekend, played every minute of Liverpool’s last 74 league matches, helping them record the best defensive record in the division in each of the last two seasons. In 2019, he was the PFA Player of the Year, and finished second in the Ballon d’Or voting to Lionel Messi.

Now, Liverpool must hope that Joe Gomez and Joel Matip, who made his own return from injury against Everton, can remain fit and healthy. Both have had issues throughout their Reds career, but both will now need to step up if Liverpool are to maintain the standards shown across the past two campaigns. The pair, remarkably, have never started a game together at centre-back in their time at the club.

Matip returned from a hamstring injury against Everton, completing 90 minutes for the first time since last October. Gomez, whose form has been patchy in recent weeks, replaced the stricken Van Dijk early.

Klopp has the option of using midfielder Fabinho as a centre-back, a tactic which worked well away at Chelsea earlier this season, while both Henderson and Gini Wijnaldum have, in the past, covered in the backline in emergency situations.

Beyond that, Liverpool would need to rely on youngsters. Billy Koumetio, the 17-year-old, offers promise and made a big impression on Klopp and his staff during the pre-season training camp in Austria, though is relatively untested, even at Under-18 or Under-23 level.

Rhys Williams, 19, showed quality in two Carabao Cup appearances this season, and appears to have benefited from a loan spell at Kidderminster in the sixth tier last term, while Sepp van den Berg, who has top-flight experience with Zwolle in the Eredivisie, is still with the club having failed to secure a loan move in the summer.

Nat Phillips is another option. The 23-year-old, who spent last season on loan with Stuttgart in 2.Bundesliga, was not moved on in the summer despite interest from a host of Championship clubs, and will train with the senior squad at Melwood. Phillips made his debut for the Reds in the FA Cup win over Everton in January, and is back fit again following an ankle issue which disrupted his pre-season.