Liverpool may have secured a vital 2-1 victory against Monterrey on Wednesday to progress to Saturday’s FIFA Club World Cup final against Flamengo but there was one nagging concern that was difficult to overlook.
The absence of Virgil van Dijk was vastly stark as the European champions left it late again to limp past the Mexican outfit.
Van Dijk, 28, missed the semi-final bout due to illness as club-captain Jordan Henderson filled in at centre-back. Current injuries to Joel Matip and Dejan Lovren meant Joe Gomez was the only central defender available at Jurgen Klopp’s disposal.
Liverpool unsurprisingly lacked a calming presence at the back as Monterrey exposed a greater threat than first imagined to push the Reds to their physical limits.
Monterrey had more shots on targets (8) than Liverpool (6) with Klopp having his goalkeeper, Alisson Becker, to thank following some crucial saves to keep Club de Fútbol Monterrey at bay. No wonder the FIFA Coach of the Year made a beeline for the Brazil No.1 at the final whistle who was also awarded man of the match.
Liverpool’s semi-final opponents finished the game feeling hard done by with head coach Antonio Mohamed left exasperated at the final whistle as to how Gomez wasn’t sent off for a second bookable offence.
The England international didn’t look as assured following the absence of his irreplaceable centre-back partner Van Dijk. It was the first time since February that the UEFA Player of the Year missed either a Premier League or continental clash for the Reds.
Henderson to his credit, produced a performance as composed as can be expected for a player who has never featured at the heart of defence during his career. The Reds’ skipper was effective with the ball and looked to utilise his passing ability from deeper areas.
However, Van Dijk’s absence enabled Rogelio Funes Mori – twin brother of former Everton defender Ramiro – to wreak havoc up top for Monterrey. Liverpool were also largely ineffective from corners without the Netherlands captain – who has three goals from set-pieces this season.
Liverpool were handed a huge boost after the club released a statement confirming that Van Dijk’s condition will be assessed over the next few days to see whether the former Southampton defender is able to take part in Saturday’s final.
The Reds are looking to claim their first CWC title whilst also avenging their 1981 final defeat to this weekend’s opponents Flamengo. If Liverpool are to be crowned world champions for the first time in their 127-year history it could all hinge on the fitness of Van Dijk.