Anytime a Liverpool player ends up on their back with a physio racing to their side from the touchline it’s an anxious moment. Is the situation serious or are we playing pretend? Is it a chance to slow the match down or the player’s last minutes on the pitch before surgery is followed by an extended absence? There’s a helpless feeling while we wait for the official verdict to reveal itself, either with a thumbs up to continue or the spinning substitution fingers from the attending medic.
Virgil Van Dijk got the fingers. He was hoisted up from the Anfield pitch, worrying his ribs, during last Saturday’s match against Southampton. Liverpool country froze in disbelief and the clock has been ticking for Van Dijk’s recovery every since, counting down to Saturday’s trip to London.
As of Jürgen Klopp’s pre-Chelsea press conference, Van Dijk had not trained with the first team and the manager was unsure of the Dutchman’s availability. But Klopp was diplomatic in his assessment of the situation, side-stepping the crushing blow of Van Dijk’s potential absence and instead boosting the confidence of his other defenders should one of them need to step into Virgil’s position this weekend.
“With Virgil we have to wait,” Klopp said. “He has trained so far with the team but I can’t say any more about that.
“Virgil is a world-class player, there is no doubt about that, and if you miss a world-class player it is not cool. But Dejan Lovren made his first appearance after, I would say, around 10 weeks.
”Most of that time he was that injured he couldn’t even think about training because when you have something in that part of your body you cannot do fitness, nothing.
”And after that long period, he played an outstanding game. Joël Matip, two games in a row, played fantastic. Both full-backs [Alberto Moreno and Nathaniel Clyne] didn’t play in the season so far.
“So we all get judged constantly but for the boys it’s much more important what I think about their performance than what you think about their performance. I can imagine people say ‘thank God all the others come back’, but these boys did a really good job.”
Joe Gomez has taken a step up this season and partnered Van Dijk so deftly in defense. Matip has also looked assured with his opportunities. I’m expected these two to join forces at Stamford Bridge if Van Dijk remains unavailable.
But it looks like it will all come down to the wire for Klopp. The manager still has another day and a half or so to wait on Van Dijk’s healing ribs and he’ll use every second of it.
”So, if Virgil is fit and can play then he will play,” said Klopp, “but if not then obviously we have options and that’s really good. His impact is always obvious, but we could play football before Virgil van Dijk and we can play without Virgil, thank God.
”But I prefer that he is fit and available and I can make decisions, if he needs a rest or not in one of the other games. For the last game he was not available but now we will see for tomorrow.”