Jurgen Klopp is refusing to put a timescale on Virgil van Dijk’s return from the serious knee injury suffered in last weekend’s Merseyside derby.
Van Dijk is yet to undergo surgery on the cruciate ligament damage he suffered in a challenge from Everton goalkeeper Jordan Pickford.
The Dutch defender could miss the rest of the season but Klopp would not give an estimated return date during Friday’s press conference.
“I can understand that people are interested in that,” said the Liverpool boss. “Virgil was here, he is okay.
“But when it comes to the surgery and stuff, it doesn’t make sense for us to give a time schedule. We’ll do that at an appropriate time, but he’s as good as possible.
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“We don’t want to know how long he is out for, it will take time for sure. In the end, all people are different so we can’t say for him it’s that long, for him it’s that long.
“It makes sense from a specific moment in the recovery and rehab time.
“Everybody copes differently with it that’s why there is no need for an update.”
Klopp has backed Fabinho to fill in for Van Dijk at the heart of Liverpool’s defence after impressing alongside Joe Gomez at centre-back during Wednesday’s Champions League win against Ajax.
“They’re (Van Dijk and Fabinho) different players but both can defend, that helps obviously,” said Klopp.
“We all know Fab can play this position, he played against Bayern for example in a home game, and was absolutely great.
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“I’m not surprised he can play the position but it’s all about getting used to each other. I don’t think this line played together before the Ajax game.
“There are a lot of things from an organisational point of view. You cannot talk about it or exchange notes about it; it’s just to feel what’s right and wrong, high line or low line, this kind of stuff.
“That’s why I said there is a lot to improve because these boys need to get used to each other.”
Liverpool return to Premier League action on Saturday when they face Sheffield United, live on Sky Sports Box Office.
It means a quick return to Anfield for Rhian Brewster, who joined the Blades from Liverpool in a £23.5m earlier this month.
“We all know him very well and that’s the problem, we know how good he is. That’s the situation,” said Klopp.
“We need to be 100 per cent focused if he starts. But not only him. Sheffield United are doing really well; they had a pretty tough start fixture-wise.
“I’m pretty sure Chris (Wilder) is calm enough to know all the good things they did are still good and they just have to keep them going. That’s what they will try and that makes it really a very intense game.
“It’s Sheffield United; the way they play, if you want to win the game you have to be intense yourself.
“And if Rhian is then on the pitch, we know we should not let him finish at all because wherever he gets the ball he is a natural finisher and that’s his biggest threat.”
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It’s time for Joe Gomez and Joel Matip to step up for Liverpool with Virgil van Dijk out for the season… but the pair have NEVER started together at centre back and must hit the ground running with six matches in 18 days
Virgil Van Dijk’s season is all but over after suffering an ACL injury on Saturday
His long-term absence presents a problem for Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp
Joe Gomez and Joel Matip are set to step in without Mr Reliable alongside them
Gomez and Matip have never actually started a match together at centre back
Fabinho and a host of youngsters could also be used as defensive alternatives
One rash tackle, one grimace of pain, one season-ending injury to Vigil Van Dijk. Suddenly, the mood around Liverpool has changed dramatically.
The Reds’ talismanic centre back requires surgery on his ACL injury suffered in Saturday’s Merseyside Derby, as a result of Jordan Pickford’s horror challenge in the early stages which, remarkably, went unpunished.
With the transfer window closed until January, Jurgen Klopp has a defensive problem he must have dreaded. Van Dijk has been an ever-present since his £75m signing in January 2018, having played 93 consecutive Premier League matches, and replacing him is a near-impossible task.
Virgil Van Dijk suffered a knee injury on Saturday after a horror challenge from Jordan Pickford
Liverpool are set for months without their best defender, with Van Dijk requiring surgery
He even started against Lincoln and Arsenal in the Carabao Cup this season – his durability and supreme fitness is as much a strength as his all-round superiority and control at the back.
Irreplaceable? Yes, without a shadow of a doubt. Van Dijk won the UEFA Player of the Year award in 2019 as well as the PFA Players’ Player of the Year award. Respected by onlookers and his fellow players, his influence on Klopp’s juggernaut in the past three years has been monumental.
So, what now? Until the opportunity to bring in new players arises again in the New Year, Liverpool face 17 matches in 10 weeks and – in the short-term – six games in 18 days, starting with a trip to Amsterdam on Wednesday to face Ajax as the Champions League returns this week.
It’s a schedule made even more gruelling by Van Dijk’s absence. Joe Gomez and Joel Matip are now the only senior centre backs in the first-team squad, with Fabinho – who played admirably in defence against Chelsea last month – an alternative to drop back from his usual role in defensive midfield.
On the fringes, Nat Phillips, Rhys Williams and Billy Koumetio could all play a part in the upcoming months too – if not from the start, perhaps from the bench.
Now though, without their calming Dutch presence next to them, Gomez and Matip will have to learn how to play alongside one another – and fast.
Strikingly, despite being at the club for over four years together and starting 21 matches alongside one another, the pair have never actually started a match together at centre half.
Before Van Dijk’s arrival, it was actually Dejan Lovren who was the regularly-used man at the heart of defence. Gomez was used often as right back in Klopp’s early years too.
Yet now, the Croat’s £11m departure to Zenit St Petersburg in the summer seems like a rash decision. Or rather, the lack of a reinforcement seems even more puzzling.
The sale of Dejan Lovren to Zenit in the summer now leaves Liverpool short in central defence
Reds boss Jurgen Klopp now has only two senior centre backs following Van Dijk’s injury
Nevertheless, in Gomez and Matip, the Liverpool manager knows he has two players in the prime of their careers who are now needed to show their abundance of quality more than ever.
Gomez, who was used as a makeshift wing back throughout the early part of his Anfield career, emerged as Van Dijk’s regular partner last season, with Matip out injured for a long period.
Quick, aerially dominant and confident on the ball, Gomez made his England debut in November 2017 as he became a reliable first-team squad player for his club.
It was at the beginning of the 2018-19 season where Gomez first truly impressed though in his favoured central position, with his consistency only curtailed by a cruel fractured leg suffered against Burnley in December.
Joe Gomez, who has been short of form, will now be needed to deputise in Van Dijk’s absence
He missed virtually the rest of the season after requiring surgery, but did come on as a late substitute in the 2019 Champions League final victory against Tottenham.
Yet Gomez’s injury gave Matip a long-term chance to shine alongside Van Dijk that season and like the man he replaced, Matip came into his own.
The Cameroonian was as reliable as Van Dijk and won over a number of supporters as the Reds pushed Manchester City all the way in the Premier League title race and won on the European stage.
Joel Matip started for the first time against Everton on Saturday following four months out
In fact, in the Champions League final where Van Dijk was named man-of-the-match, Matip was arguably as instrumental, particularly given he laid on Divock Origi’s trophy-clinching goal late on.
But, like Gomez, Matip has had his injury problems. His 2019-20 season was plagued with injuries, as he picked up three different knocks at different points of the season.
Now, with Van Dijk a long-term absentee, that situation cannot afford to repeat itself. On the contrary, both Gomez and Van Dijk need to strike up a partnership and hit the ground running amid a congested schedule.
That is easier said than done. Gomez arguably had his worst performance in a Liverpool shirt when he last started, in the shock 7-2 defeat at Aston Villa before the international break, while Matip only made his first start after a long-term injury against Everton on Saturday following four months out.
Gomez and Matip (centre) will need to work on their partnership on the training pitch
One is short of form, one is short of fitness – Matip actually required a scan after Saturday’s derby, yet no major issue wad detected.
In the long run though, who will shift over to play on the left-hand side? Who will take the onus in terms of leadershIp? Are they both compatible together without the colossal Van Dijk next to them?
These are all questions which will be put under the spotlight, probably for the rest of the season. And it is not hyperbolising when saying that the answers to those questions could well define Liverpool’s season.
“I’m now fully focussed on my recovery and will do everything I can to be back as quickly as possible.
“Despite the obvious disappointment, I’m a firm believer that within difficulty lies opportunity and with God’s help I’m going to make sure I return better, fitter and stronger than ever before.
“In football, as in life, I believe everything happens for a reason and it’s important to try and keep level headed whether going through the highs or the lows.
“With the support of my wife, kids, family and everyone at Liverpool, I’m ready for the challenge ahead.
“I’d like to thank everyone for the messages of support, it’s meant a huge amount to me and my family, and I’ll now be doing everything possible to support my teammates in any way I can ahead of a big few weeks ahead as I take my own recovery day by day.
“I’ll be back.”
Club sources are reluctant to rule out a return to action this season for the 29-year-old, who had played every minute of the 74 league games prior to being forced off the pitch on Saturday, a spell stretching back to his substitution in the 3-0 home win over Southampton in September 2018.