Virgil van Dijk’s knee injury has “thrown the title race wide” and seriously damages Liverpool’s chances, according to Jamie Carragher.
The talismanic Reds defender has torn his ACL and now faces several months on the sidelines.
It comes as another blow to Liverpool, who are already without first-choice goalkeeper Alisson Becker due to injury. Alisson and Van Dijk are widely regarded as the two signings that turned Liverpool into title winners.
Until Saturday, Van Dijk had an near-faultless injury record while at Liverpool. The towering Dutchman has started the last 94 Premier League matches. He is a hugely influential figure in their defence and dressing room. A captain in everything but name.
“I think the big question you look at now – can Liverpool win the league without van Dijk there?
“I think every title-winning team has three or four players that no matter who your manager is or how big your squad is you can’t cover for them – they’re outstanding.
“I think it blows the title race wide open. I still thought at the start of this season Liverpool were the team to beat. But I think with van Dijk being out for what looks like the whole season now, I think it’s going to be all on.”
Liverpool now have just Joe Gomez and Joel Matip as recognised senior centre-halves. Both too have have had their injury issues in recent years.
Liverpool can also play Fabinho at centre-half if needed. It was his versatility that prompted Jurgen Klopp to shelve plans to sign a new defender this summer.
Carragher, however, is adamant the Reds must enter the market as soon as possible to sign a replacement.
“I think Liverpool will have to go into the market in January and not just because of van Dijk’s injury but they were weak in that area anyway,” he added.
“They lost [Dejan] Lovren and the other players in those positions are very injury prone.
“Devastating news for van Dijk but for Liverpool and Klopp it will be right away, ‘who can we get in?’.
“They have to be ready on January 1st to bring in who they want in that area because that could stop them going on to achieve what they want to achieve.”
Van Dijk issues statement
Van Dijk released a statement on Sunday night in which he vowed to come back stronger than ever.
“This afternoon I met with a leading consultant to start the process of planning the finer details of my rehabilitation following the incident yesterday,” he posted on Twitter.
“I’m now fully focused 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. 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. 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.
“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.”