Virgil van Dijk Provides Fresh Insight into Liverpool Injury Crisis as Return Date Hinted

Virgil van Dijk shares his thoughts on Joe Gomez being tasked with playing defensive midfield for Liverpool amid the ongoing injury crisis faced by the Reds.

The absence of senior defensive midfielders due to the unexpected departures of Fabinho and Jordan Henderson to Saudi Arabia last summer presented a significant challenge for Liverpool. However, Jurgen Klopp has adeptly navigated this issue.

Despite failed pursuits of Moises Caicedo, Romeo Lavia, and Andre Trindade, Liverpool managed to secure the signing of Wataru Endo from VfB Stuttgart in a £16.2m deal. Endo’s arrival raised eyebrows, given his age and past experiences in relegation battles in the Bundesliga. Adjusting to the Premier League took time for the 30-year-old Japan captain.

During pre-season, Trent Alexander-Arnold and Curtis Jones temporarily filled the defensive midfield role, with Alexander-Arnold impressing before an injury to Conor Bradley necessitated his return to right-back. Jones’s performance was not as convincing, leading to the experimentation with Alexis Mac Allister in the position, despite it not being his natural role.

Initially, a short-term solution was sought ahead of Stefan Bajcetic’s expected return from injury. However, a fresh setback to the young Spaniard prompted a rethink, leading Mac Allister to continue in the role. Over time, he gradually adapted, appearing more and more natural in the position.

When injury struck in December, an adapted Endo stepped up, showcasing why the club had initially signed him and quickly becoming a fan favorite. Fortunately, when he departed for Asian Cup duty in January, Mac Allister had returned to full fitness.

Unfortunately, further midfield absences loomed, necessitating the pairing of Endo and Mac Allister for multiple games throughout February until both were sidelined.

Endo left Wembley on crutches and in a protective boot following Liverpool’s League Cup final win over Chelsea, while the Argentine fell ill. Although Mac Allister recovered enough to feature as a substitute against Southampton, Klopp faced the challenge of finding a creative solution.

With Alexander-Arnold, Jones, and Bajcetic still sidelined, and McConnell required at number eight due to injury woes, Klopp turned to Joe Gomez as the latest makeshift option.

Despite being primarily a defender this season, Gomez demonstrated his versatility by filling in as a defensive midfielder. Flanked by teenagers McConnell and Bobby Clark in an untested midfield trio, Liverpool emerged victorious against Southampton, securing a 3-0 win.

As they prepared for an FA Cup quarter-final clash against Manchester United, Klopp lauded Gomez as an unlikely hero, praising his performance after the final whistle.

Read Also  Liverpool Legend Identities Premeir League Star as "Ideal" Mohamed Salah Replacement

“Joe Gomez saved our lives 20 times tonight and the kids kept us in the competition,” he said. “So we can talk about the boys but but the real story today is Joe Gomez.

“The game he played today I have never seen before, with chaos around him, as a No.6 [for the first time], I couldn’t respect it more.”

His performance was even more remarkable considering the Reds had little time to practice it during training, all while being concerned about the availability of Mac Allister.

“Because there was such a short turnaround we didn’t even work on it that much,” club captain Virgil van Dijk admitted to the ECHO and other media outlets. “We had a team meeting about Southampton and how we wanted to play, what to expect.

“But it was always going to be a bit difficult because you are not used to being there from the get-go. He (Gomez) can invert in but it’s a different scenario.

“They played out well. Obviously we played with a team which didn’t play too many times together so pressing-wise we were, at times, a little bit all over the place in the beginning but you have to try to stay in the game like we always try to do and that worked and we scored a goal with a little bit of luck.

“He did outstanding, big credit to him for him to perform at left-back, right-back, centre-half, six and does it on the high level.”

“I’m just pleased for him and knowing what we have been through together a couple of years ago,” the Dutchman continued, referencing the serious season-ending injuries both he and Gomez suffered back in 2020. “And for him to be playing on that level is something he should get maybe more credit for.

“But he is a very close friend of mine and he is a very good player and has been outstanding. Maybe one of the players of the season this year.”

Besides Gomez, another player making an impact in the Liverpool starting lineup despite facing challenges is Caoimhin Kelleher, who is excelling in goal during Alisson Becker’s prolonged absence, much to the satisfaction of Van Dijk.

“I said it before, I am one of the biggest fans of Caoimh,” he said. “It must be difficult to be a second goalie at times.

“Obviously you want to play each and every game but if you are the second goalie behind the best goalkeeper in the world in my opinion, it is not a punishment. But when he steps up and when he plays, he did very well. He had an outstanding game at Wembley and today, the first part of the game (against Southampton) as well.

Read Also  Richard Hughes Connection to Agent Could See "Standout" Manager Becomes the Next Liverpool Boss

“You just have to keep going and games like this and at the weekend will give him a boost and confidence going towards the last part of the season because we need him to be at his best and he just has to keep going.”

Kelleher’s tenure in the starting lineup appears set to continue, given Alisson’s absence until at least after the March international break. He’s not the only one sidelined, as Alexander-Arnold, Jones, Bajcetic, Thiago Alcantara, Ryan Gravenberch, Diogo Jota, Joel Matip, and Ben Doak are also nursing injuries.

Following a match against Southampton without any new casualties, Van Dijk is optimistic about Liverpool’s prospects. He anticipates the return of several key players as they aim for more success following their League Cup triumph. While Endo’s availability remains uncertain, Mohamed Salah, Darwin Nunez, and Dominik Szoboszlai are nearing their returns. Additionally, Robertson is expected to recover from illness before the next fixture.

“Overall I think it was very important to go through and come out for the game with no injuries and prepare for Forest,” Van Dijk said. “The last two games were already very important, Luton too of course.

“The (young) guys did well and we need everyone in this fight. Hopefully we have a couple of players back for the weekend as that will be a tough game as well. We lost there last year and we want to make things right.

“I think the positivity comes from winning games, that is how the football business works. We all play the game to win but since the start of this season, there has been this mood that we want to make things right, not only for the fans but ourselves as well as it was very difficult season last season for many different reasons.

“We are on a good way, we can’t be satisfied at this point and we won’t be. We want to keep going, keep working, keep fighting and we need each and everyone of us plus the fans in order to hopefully achieve things we are dreaming of.”

In other Liverpool news, How Michael Edwards Reunion Could End the Contract of Two Liverpool Stars After 2022 Exit Revelation

Share your thought