“Is anyone interested in the game?” a frustrated Jurgen Klopp lambasted just five minutes into his press conference ahead of Liverpool’s Champions League opener against Ajax with every question dominated around one player.
From the very first second, every question was fixated around Virgil van Dijk following the Dutchman’s potentially season-ending setback having picked up an ACL injury during the Merseyside derby draw at Everton.
Indeed, there is no hiding from the loss of Liverpool’s chief organiser and the ever-present figure who hasn’t missed a Premier League match since January 2018 yet this is the unfortunate reality that has been thrown at the direction of the English champions.
Liverpool have ceded the services of their lynchpin, their ‘leader’ as Georginio Wijnaldum put it, and part of the psychological armoury that has been the bedrock to Klopp’s ‘mentality monsters’ achieving a frankly ridiculous 196 points in consecutive league seasons.
Wijnaldum, 29, perfectly reflected the deflated mood following such a gargantuan setback. “Everyone still has a really bad feeling”, were the words used to describe how Liverpool players really felt about Everton goalkeeper Jordan Pickford’s reckless, unpunished challenge that the midfielder deemed as “completely stupid”.
He even went as far to say that none of Liverpool’s first-team players were able to sleep on Saturday, still seething from the preventable circumstance that unfolded to blight the club’s most transformative signing of the modern era.
Klopp rightly deflected talks of Liverpool’s title ambitions taking a detrimental blow and bristled at the suggestion of his team mentally capitulating. “Why should I think the boys cannot deal with the situation?” he swiftly responded to such ridiculous suggestions.
“But the number of questions you ask suggests you think we will all struggle with it. So we have to prove you wrong. I am not even interested in proving you wrong. I am only interested in the best for Liverpool and for my players.
“That is what we try now. Hopefully, the results in the next few weeks will calm you all slightly down but I cannot promise it.
“I know how the world is. I know what people do. A lot of people speak before they think. But they speak and then it is already out there.
“We try – sometimes at least – to think before we speak. We have a situation. We are here without Virgil van Dijk and Joel Matip! We will still give it a try. What can we do now?
“People can say what they want, it is a free world. But three weeks ago, they said we would run away with the title.
“Now, three weeks later, we are not even in contention for anything anymore.
“That’s football. That’s the world right now. We cannot be that excited. We have to stay calm.”
People can be forgiven for having such short memories as it shouldn’t be forgotten how many times Liverpool have thrived in the face of adversity.
Alisson Becker missed 10 matches after picking up an injury on the opening day of last season while Fabinho was in the form of his life prior to a knee injury that sidelined the Brazilian for over three months.
Even in the Champions League, Liverpool have been dealt their fair share of misfortune. It shouldn’t be forgotten that Klopp and Liverpool inspired one of the greatest European comebacks of all time without both Mohamed Salah and Roberto Firmino as well as Naby Keita all injured against Barcelona. Andy Robertson was forced off at half-time while Jordan Henderson played through a knee injury.
If there is one aspect of Klopp’s squad that dare never be questioned, it is the resilience of his players.
Inevitably the media will continue to frame the narrative of Liverpool’s upcoming fixtures through the microscope of Van Dijk’s absence. Every upcoming encounter will be met as to whether the Premier League champions’ reaction will see fight or flight response in the absence of their £75 million star.
The directive now for Liverpool was perfectly encapsulated from Wijnaldum, who said: “For us to show we can put in good performances without Virgil”.
Wijnaldum’s emotional words and facial expressions really told the story of just how challenging such a prospect opposes to be.
Liverpool currently have just two senior naturally suited central defenders in Van Dijk’s absence in the form of Joel Matip and Joe Gomez with the former currently unavailable and both with a worrying track record when it comes to injuries.
Klopp believes Liverpool must begin ‘thinking about solutions’ which is certainly an interesting proposition given the injury to Van Dijk opposes arguably the greatest challenge both the manager and his players have been dealt with following two seasons of unrivalled continental dominance.