Can Liverpool beat Chelsea without Van Dijk?
A bamboozling run and a powerful drive by Belgium international, Eden Hazard, with five minutes to go, was enough to inspire a Chelsea comeback in the Carabao Cup at the expense of a hapless Liverpool.
Virgil Van Dijk and the rest of Liverpool’s back five were notable absentees, yet, until Hazard’s introduction, the game was very much Liverpool’s to lose, with the home side having had a number of opportunities to put the game to bed.
“Like a defeat is, it is not cool, not what you want and not what you’re going for” Jürgen Klopp told journalists in his pre-match presser ahead of the Premier League fixture at Stamford Bridge.
“But we should not be surprised that things like this can happen, especially in a game against a really strong side.
“When you don’t use your big chances, you leave the game open and if you leave the game open, there is always a chance for the other team. That’s what happened, not more.”
Left bemused with a seemingly dubious VAR decision, Klopp felt that Liverpool were unlucky in some respects. However, the fact remains that Liverpool were simply not clinical enough with the chances available.
Many chances, much maligned Alberto Moreno at fullback, losing games in which the team played well – relatively so, in this case – sound familiar?
With the likely return of most of the back five to the team sheet, Chelsea will be faced with a completely different animal, but question marks have been raised as to the availability of key man Van Dijk.
Klopp: Virgil is a world class player and when you miss a world class player it's not cool. Dejan Lovren played his first game in 10 weeks and most of that time he couldn't train. If Virgil is fit, he plays. If not, then obviously we have options.
— Ian Doyle (@IanDoyleSport) September 28, 2018
Gomez has proved to be a more than able partner to the Dutchman, particularly in games like that against Leicester, where Van Dijk was not quite at his brilliant best. Indeed, lining up beside Joel Matip against Southampton, the twenty-one year old put in an assured performance to lighten the weight of Van Dijk’s absence.
Chelsea, and Eden Hazard, however, are a completely different kettle of fish. Whilst the return of Andy Robertson and Trent Alexander-Arnold will go some way in lowering heart rates, can Liverpool still take all three points with either Matip or Dejan Lovren installed beside Gomez?
The short answer: Yes.
It would be foolish to disregard the confidence Van Dijk’s presence alone brings to the defence, but Gomez has shown signs over a number of games of being a capable leader.
Klopp’s thoughts on the matter are clear: if the Dutch captain is fit, he starts, end of discussion, but it’s by no means the end of the world, should fitness be a bar to his selection.
“Virgil is a world-class player, there is no doubt about that, and if you miss a world-class player it is not cool” Klopp responded to questions about Van Dijk’s availability for Stamford Bridge.
“But Dejan Lovren made his first appearance after I would say around 10 weeks [on Wednesday].
“Most of that time he was that injured that 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.
“Joel Matip, two games in a row, played fantastic.”
Although fans will be hoping for a quick return should Klopp decide not to take any risks with the former Southampton stalwart, Lovren and Matip offer considerable backup.
Let’s not be too hasty in dismissing the efforts of Lovren last season, which helped propel Liverpool through a thrilling Champions League campaign to the edge of glory in Kiev.
More recently against Southampton, Matip looked a vision of composure, topping off a great outing with a towering header to put Liverpool 2-0 up before half-time.
It speaks a lot about the progression Liverpool have made on the pitch that players on the sidelines can still come in and contribute meaningfully in games. However, as Wednesday’s cup fixture has proven, it is unwise to put faith in wholesale changes, especially at the back.
With Lovren’s recent return from injury, I suspect Matip will get the nod over the Croatian, should Klopp err on the side of caution with Van Dijk.
Whatever the decision, Liverpool fans can rest assured that they will witness a much different performance this evening at Stamford Bridge.
Go with Joel Matip or Dejan Lovren? Or risk playing Van Dijk through the pain barrier? Have your say below.