Football

Liverpool must replace Virgil van Dijk in January: Jamie Carragher

Cascarino likens Pickford's challenge on the Dutchman to infamous Keane tackle

Liverpool centre-back Virgil van Dijk's lengthy absence through a knee injury has opened up the English Premier League title race and the champions must look to sign a replacement in the January transfer window, former Reds defender Jamie Carragher said.

Dutchman van Dijk will have surgery for an anterior cruciate ligament injury suffered in last Saturday's Merseyside Derby draw against Everton, after a reckless challenge by goalkeeper Jordan Pickford.

"The big question you're looking at now is, can Liverpool win the league without van Dijk there? I think it blows the title race wide open," Carragher told Sky Sports.

"I still felt at the start of this season Liverpool were the team to beat. With van Dijk out for what looks like the whole season, it's going to be all on for Liverpool.

"Liverpool have to go into the market in January and not just because of van Dijk's injury.

"They were weak in that area anyway. They lost (Dejan) Lovren before the start of the season... others in those positions are injury prone."

Former Liverpool midfielder Danny Murphy described van Dijk as the best centre-back in the world and said that Liverpool would be more vulnerable without him.

"Fabinho can drop in there if (Joel) Matip and (Joe) Gomez are struggling but, beyond that, there's not much there," Murphy told the BBC. "They've got to get through to January without him (van Dijk)."

Van Dijk said in a statement that he was hoping to make a quick return. "In football and in life, I believe everything happens for a reason and it's important to try and keep level-headed whether going though the highs or the lows," he said.

Other pundits, like Tony Cascarino and Graeme Souness slammed Pickford's tackle.

Ex-Chelsea striker Cascarino likened it to Roy Keane's infamous malicious tackle on Alf-Inge Haaland in 2001. He told talkSPORT: "We give yellow cards so readily and so quickly for minor incidents, and then you see a tackle that is as bad as the one Roy Keane did on Alf-Inge Haaland.

"It was just horrendous! We talk about dangerous tackles and two-footing and lunging in and being reckless - Jordan Pickford was everything as bad as it could be."

AN ASSAULT

A renowned hard man during his playing days, former Liverpool captain and manager Souness said of Pickford's challenge, "That was an assault, not a tackle, an assault". He also assailed the video assistant referee (VAR) for letting the England No. 1 off scott- free.

Ex-EPL and Fifa referee Dermot Gallagher said that the decision not to send off Pickford was a "human error".

Fellow former EPL and Fifa referee Mark Clattenburg agreed, writing in his Daily Mail column: "Referee Michael Oliver should have been told to look at his monitor by VAR David Coote. Had Oliver done so, I'm sure he would have sent off Jordan Pickford...

"VAR looked at the incident and decided it wasn't a red-card offence. I disagree...

"I've also heard it claimed Pickford could not be dismissed because van Dijk was offside - rubbish. Oliver had not blown his whistle by the time Pickford lunged in, so he could still have been punished."

Football