It was the news that no Liverpool wanted to read. Virgil van Dijk, the club’s inspiring captain, was now looking at the barrel of a serious knee injury and a significant period of time away.
Liverpool fans are a testament to the importance of the Dutch defender for Liverpool’s cause and, although the transfer window was closed, fans were looking to January and the possibility of reinforcements.
It is like Sam McGuire explained in his new Marginal Plains newsletter, The Duje Ćaleta-Car from Marseille can be the perfect substitute.
McGuire notes several key components that make the Fin Car suitable for the job. He rarely goes to the ground, he does well in one-on-one situations – a by-product of Marseille’s eagerness to put his defenders on the attack – and he can cover large areas as a defender.
Although van Dijk is a fantastic defender, he is also extremely impressive with the ball. This makes it a vital component in Liverpool’s attack.
“We tried to put them under as much pressure as we could, but van Dijk plays 60 yards against Mohamed Salah and they are out,” admitted Arsenal coach Mikel Arteta after the Reds’ victory in the Emirates last month.
Given that Ćaleta-Car spent some time with RB Salzburg, his transition to the Jürgen Klopp system will also be easier, so it is difficult to look beyond the Croatian international as the perfect replacement option if the Reds are looking for advance in the January transfer window.
The fact that we are able to qualify what makes van Dijk so important for this Liverpool team means that it is possible to assess whether someone on the current team could take on this role. In the midweek encounter with Ajax, Fabinho fell as a central defender and the Brazilian had an admirable performance.
Some Liverpool fans may argue that Fabinho may be the long-term successor or even the short-term solution as van Dijk recovers, but the more exposure he has to the position, the better he will become in theory.
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His base as a defensive and lateral midfielder early in his career makes him suitable for the transition. He has the ball game skills needed to instigate attacks, while his reading of the game as a defensive midfielder can also serve him in a deeper role with a broader view of the field.
The idea of transferring a defensive midfielder to the heart of the defense is nothing new. Klopp’s rival Pep Guardiola has already done so with Fernandinho at Manchester City and Javier Mascherano at Barcelona.
You will have a hard time finding a Liverpool fan who was not devastated by the news of van Dijk’s injury. The arrival of the 29-year-old at Anfield marked a new dawn and a change in a team with the potential to become European and Premier League champions.
His absence will be felt regardless of how Liverpool reacts, but at least the bases for a solution are beginning to emerge.