Liverpool’s chances of retaining the Premier League title have decreased by 11.3% in the wake of Virgil van Dijk’s long-term injury, according to their faltering betting odds.
The Dutch centre-half, who has been instrumental in the rise of the Reds ever since his £75million move from Southampton in January 2018, is due to undergo knee surgery following Liverpool’s 2-2 draw with Everton on Saturday.
Van Dijk suffered anterior cruciate ligament damage following a reckless challenge from Toffees goalkeeper Jordan Pickford, who went unpunished for the tackle, and is expected to miss the majority of the season as a result.
It’s a huge set-back for Reds boss Jurgen Klopp, who sold experienced centre-half Dejan Lovren in the summer without bringing in a replacement, and the expected six-month absence of van Dijk has seen punters lose faith in Liverpool’s title hopes.
Sportsbook traders at all top betting sites have inflated Liverpool’s odds from 11/8 before the Merseyside derby to its current price of 9/4, which equates to a 42.1% chance decreasing to 30.8%.
That’s the biggest price they’ve been so far this season and it’s understandable given the loss of van Dijk, coupled with the recent injury to goalkeeper Alisson Becker, although the Brazilian is due back in a number of weeks.
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Klopp could live to regret not signing more experienced cover for central defence, although he does still have six players to call upon in that position, namely Joe Gomez, Joel Matip and Fabinho plus youngsters Nathaniel Phillips, Rhys Williams and Sepp van den Berg.
Indeed, former Liverpool striker Emile Heskey is looking on the positive side of things, suggesting one door closed means another opens up.
“I always look at an injury as an opportunity for another player,” Heskey told bookmakers.co.uk.
“When I was starting out, I actually got my chance because someone was out sick. I took my opportunity and I rose, and if it wasn’t for that perhaps I wouldn’t have got my chance early enough and who knows what would have happened with my career?
“It’s a little like City losing [Aymeric] Laporte last season, and we saw what that did to them. All clubs need a solid centre-half, so it’s going to be difficult to replace him, but at the same time it’s an opportunity for someone else to rise.”
In recognition of helping Liverpool to a Champions League triumph and a Premier League title in his first back-to-back full seasons, van Dijk was PFA Player of the Year in 2018/19 and only lost out to Lionel Messi in the Ballon D’or last year.
In his 95 Premier League appearances for Liverpool to date the Reds have kept an impressive 44 clean sheets and Heskey has now called on one of Liverpool’s senior options at centre-half to fill the leadership void vacated by van Dijk.
He said: “I think it goes without saying that he is a talisman for Liverpool, one of the main reasons the club are up where they are and why they were top of the table for so long last season.
“He’s going to be sorely missed as a leader, which is what you need at central defence. When you look at the top teams it’s so crucial to have leadership at centre-half and Liverpool have now lost that for the foreseeable.
“All good teams have a leader in defence and he’s that person for Liverpool so he will be sorely missed, but they still have Fabinho, Gomez and Matip and it’s up to them now to step up to the plate and be Liverpool’s leader at the back and keep the club on the front-foot.”