LIVERPOOL, England – Virgil van Dyck walked carefully around the field, shaking his head sadly, muttering under his breath. He stopped to offer Jurgen Klopp a grimace and then left Goodison Park. This will be the last Liverpool and the Premier League to be seen by the Dutchman for a long time.
Exactly how much is still unknown. On Sunday, a consultant confirmed what both the player and his coach feared in this brief pause in the derby side derby: Van Dyck injured the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee. It is too early to assess the exact extent of the damage, but it is not too early to know that van Dyke needs surgery.
In any case, Liverpool must now undertake a significant part of their Premier League title defense without the central pillar of their back line, a player who has played 74 consecutive league games and who has barely missed a minute of home play in two and a half years. since his arrival at Anfield.
Some injuries have consequences that extend beyond the pain and despair felt by the player who suffered them; they have the ability to change the course of the season.
Former Arsenal midfielder Tomas Rossiki has suggested that his team could have won the Premier League in 2008 if Eduardo, his Croatian-Brazilian striker, had not suffered a career-threatening injury at Birmingham. And a line can be drawn between the absence of Roy Keane in 1998 and the collapse of Manchester United in the race for the Premier League title. Inter Milan might not have had to wait that long between Serie A crowns at the end of the last century if Ronaldo, the Brazilian striker considered the best player in the world at the time, had not torn the tendons in his knee in late 1999. г.
The same is not always true, of course: Arsenal (again) lost Robert Pires to injury in 2002, when he chased a double from the league and the cup and continued to win both. Five games this season, then Liverpool still should not be written off. But in this case, it is difficult to see how the context of the injury does not exacerbate the consequences.
It is possible to see in what happened to van Dijk a glimpse of almost every aspect of football in 2020. The incident that caused it felt distinctly authentic: Everton goalkeeper Jordan Pickford spent the last few years winning a reputation for tending to act first and think later, which led to a spiraling call for him to lose his place on the England national team.
Even more appropriate is the fact that the severity of van Dyke’s knee injury did not appear to have been the main source of controversy immediately after. Instead, the focus was on why Pickford avoided any punishment for an obvious red card violation.
The theory has emerged that Michael Oliver, the judge on the spot, and David Coote, his colleague at the video desk, cannot punish Pickford for an incident that occurred when van Dyke was offside. After 130 years of organized, codified football in England, a loophole seems to have emerged in which, once the ball is no longer in play, everyone has carte blanche to do what they like.
This was later changed: Pickford would have been punished if he had been guilty of a serious foul play, but (rightly or wrongly) in the eyes of Oliver and Kut, that didn’t matter.
It’s worth taking a break to think that this is where the introduction of video assistant referees and the subsequent rewriting of the game’s regulations to keep up with technology have led us to the idea that there may be a bright gray area. in rules that have gone unnoticed in the last century are no longer particularly unthinkable. Suddenly no one really knows where they are.
The fact that Liverpool, after the match, wrote to the Premier League with a request to explain why Pickford was not reprimanded – as well as conclusive evidence of the decision for offside, which denied Klopp’s team a late winning goal – has an air of sour grapes . But there will be a few clubs that haven’t felt sad about a VAR decision they haven’t fully understood last season.
Then it may be useful not only for Klopp’s burning sense of injustice, for the Premier League and its staff to think about why this is happening and to wonder if, perhaps, the rules of the game are fundamentally undermined if those who play and watch don’t believe him to be fair. Ultimately, football is controlled by consent, and that consent is thinning and diminishing.
Rather, however, the absence of van Dyck means for Liverpool. Losing a player with his height would hurt in any season and in any situation, but this is especially worrying in this campaign.
In the 75 days from now until January 1, the most recently available date on which Liverpool can get a replacement or reinforcement, Klopp’s team must play 17 games in the Premier League and Champions League. (His schedule would have been even harder if he had not been eliminated from the Arsenal League Cup.) That’s about once every four days.
And he has to do it with only two fit, senior, specialized central defenders: Joel Matip and Joe Gomez, who have both vaguely checked the history of injuries. The next alternative, Fabinho, is a central midfielder by profession, anointed as an emergency center back by Klopp, partly by choice – he prefers to work with a small squad – and partly out of necessity: His spending this summer was limited by the economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic. and he decided that the money was better spent elsewhere.
In such a compact and dense season, injuries are even more likely than usual to determine who succeeds and who fails. The teams that triumph – all over Europe – this season will not only have to excel, but will also endure. The titles can go to the last team. It is possible, when it’s all over, to see this moment as van Dyke dragged himself around the field in Goodison Park, like the one in which Liverpool fell.