Paul Merson thinks Liverpool need to sign a quality defender to cover for Virgil van Dijk rather than just a budget replacement.
Van Dijk could miss the rest of the season after suffering an ACL injury during the Merseyside derby. The Dutch defender was on the receiving end of a rash challenge from Everton goalkeeper Jordan Pickford.
He will now need surgery on his knee and faces the prospect of being out for at least six months. It will be a major blow to Liverpool’s hopes of retaining their title.
The Premier League champions were already short of defensive depth after opting not to sign a replacement for Dejan Lovren when the Croatian left in the summer. Now, they are even thinner on the ground.
In their first game since van Dijk’s injury, Liverpool lined up against Ajax with Fabinho dropping alongside Joe Gomez at centre-back. Their other option there, Joel Matip, was also injured for the game.
Predictably, Liverpool have already been linked with a number of centre-backs for when the transfer window opens in January. Some reported targets are big names like RB Leipzig’s Dayot Upamecano, whereas others suggest Liverpool may go for a stop-gap solution such as free agent Ezequiel Garay.
However, former Arsenal midfielder Merson does not think a partnership of Gomez and Matip is good enough to sustain another title challenge. Therefore, he thinks Liverpool must sign someone good enough to be van Dijk’s long-term partner when he eventually returns.
“I think Liverpool’s players need to get together now and show they can cope,” he told the Daily Star. “If they start losing games people are going to accuse them of being a one-man team.
“Van Dijk is the best defender in the business. But if you want to be one of the best teams in the world you have to be able to show you can cope without one player.
“They are going to have to adjust how they attack because before they would press so aggressively and sometimes leave themselves two-on-two at the back.
“That’s okay when you’ve got Van Dijk but Joe Gomez and Joel Matip aren’t in the same class. I would play Fabinho ahead of both of them but even then it’s not the same.
“They should go and get a defender in January and not just a cheap one who can fill in but someone who can play alongside Van Dijk when he comes back.”
Merson baffled Pickford wasn’t sent off
Reflecting further on the incident that led to van Dijk’s injury, Merson says Pickford should have been shown red. That’s despite conceding the keeper’s intention was never to harm his opponent.
“Pickford’s not gone out to try and hurt him,” he said. “Richarlison never means to hurt Thiago either. Richarlison actually tries to pull out of that tackle and I thought his red card was a bit harsh.
“It’s a derby and these things happen. But Pickford should definitely have been sent off. It was a joke, that decision.
“If it happens anywhere else on the pitch, he gets sent off.
“It just tells me the people upstairs in the VAR room don’t have a clue about football.”