Retaining the Premier League title is hard. Since the 2000/01 season, it has only happened twice with Manchester United and Manchester City both achieving the feat once. Liverpool already had their work cut out in a season shortened by the coronavirus crisis but injuries to their two main centre-backs, Virgil van Dijk and Joe Gomez, have made Jurgen Klopp’s task even harder.
Virgil van Dijk’s injury in the Merseyside derby is expected to sideline the Dutch defender for the rest of the season and Joe Gomez is also out long-term after suffering a knee injury during training with England on international duty.
Liverpool were already quite short at the back having failed to replace Dejan Lovren, who departed in the summer, with Joel Matip’s own injury issues another big concern for Reds’ fans. Fabinho has also been injured this season, with Trent Alexander-Arnold sustaining a hamstring injury against City recently.
While Liverpool youngsters Nat Phillips and Rhys Williams have impressed so far, it is difficult to ask them to step into the boots of Van Dijk and Gomez on a regular basis. So can Liverpool win the Premier League again this season despite their defensive injury crisis?
January window provides an opportunity to strengthen
Reports indicate that Liverpool will not use the transfer market to sign a defender in January. However, Klopp also previously said Liverpool would not significantly bolster their title-winning squad only for the Reds to make moves for Thiago Alcantara and Diogo Jota before the deadline.
It would therefore be a surprise if Liverpool tried to make it all the way through to the end of the season without making an addition, though there is little speculation about potential targets. The deal for Wolves forward Jota came out of the blue, however, so work is likely ongoing behind the scenes even if it is widely accepted that it is harder to complete transfers in the January window.
Liverpool are known for their forward planning with transfers. Their sporting director Michael Edwards is regarded as one of the best in the business. While some eyebrows were raised when Edwards brought Jota to Anfield, the Portugese has already hit seven Liverpool goals.
A panic signing, bringing in a centre-back on a short-term basis, is unlikely to be on the agenda for Edwards and Klopp. But if a player they have their eye on the future is available in January, even for a slightly inflated fee, they will surely have to consider making such a deal happen.
After all, Lovren being allowed to sign for Russian Premier League side Zenit without a replacement being brought in means Liverpool were already short of depth at the back.
Tests ahead for patched-up defence
On paper, a centre-back pairing of Matip with Fabinho looks solid. Fabinho can slot in at the back easily enough with Thiago’s arrival from Bayern Munich ensuring Liverpool are no weaker in midfield. But Matip only started nine Premier League games last season with the Cameroon international affected by a string of injuries since he joined from Schalke in 2016.
A perfect record in the Champions League means Liverpool already have a foot in the next round of the tournament, giving chances to rotate players in Europe, but they have eight Premier League games to navigate before the end of the year and the opening of the transfer window.
Liverpool might have found form again after the shock 7-2 hammering at Aston Villa, but a lot can change over the next two months. Titles cannot be won at this time of the year, but they can certainly be lost.
In the next month Liverpool will host Leicester, Wolves and Tottenham at Anfield. Burnley were the only team to avoid defeat away to Liverpool last season and Liverpool have not lost in the league on their home ground since April 2017.
That remarkable record is going to be severely tested in the coming weeks and, if the Reds are able to come through that series of home games against top-six candidates, they are likely to take over from City as the bookmakers’ favourites to win the Premier League title.
With van Dijk and Gomez out for the long term, signing a defender would surely be the smart move for Liverpool if they are to keep their hands on the trophy for another year, though, as Matip cannot be relied on to stay fit.
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