Former Liverpool midfielder Harry Kewell has said that the potential absence of Virgil van Dijk is his biggest worry for the Reds ahead of the Club World Cup final on Saturday.
Liverpool progressed to the final of the tournament on Wednesday courtesy of a second-half stoppage-time goal from Roberto Firmino, who had fellow substitute Trent Alexander-Arnold for the assist.
Naby Keita had given Jurgen Klopp’s side the lead early on but Rogelio Funes Mori equalised within two minutes, with Jordan Henderson filling in at centre-back alongside Joe Gomez due to Van Dijk’s illness.
Klopp has admitted that Netherlands captain Van Dijk is again a doubt for Saturday’s clash with Flamengo and, speaking to BBC Sport, Kewell opened up on how such an absence could hurt Liverpool.
“When I watch Liverpool play, I see Virgil constantly talking to everyone around him. He is always communicating with his full-backs, and the people in front of him,” the pundit said.
“Yes people talk about him being a great defender because he can play out from the back and is comfortable on the ball, but a defender’s first job is to defend – and, in the case of Van Dijk, it is to organise the rest of his defence too.
“That is what Liverpool missed the most against Monterrey. No-one had his kind of defensive vision, or ability to spot danger.”
Kewell praised the work done by Henderson and Gomez at the back on Wednesday but admitted that the Reds will look much stronger with Van Dijk back in the team.
“Despite their lack of composure at the back, they actually defended pretty well for the most part but one thing I would criticise was the goal they conceded.
“No-one saw Stefan Medina’s run to the far post, and once he had the leap on Naby Keita, there was no way Keita could defend it. After that, they did not really defend as a unit when the ball was in the box.
“I don’t see that happening if Van Dijk is on the pitch.
“Clearly, they need him back in the team to face Flamengo – if he is fit, Liverpool will be calm and comfortable at the back and everyone will be a lot more relaxed.”
Flamengo booked their spot in the final with a 3-1 win over Al Hilal on Tuesday.