🔴 EOTK Insider Opinion: Van Dijk & Gomez's return ends bleak period ✍️
The sidelining of Van Dijk and Gomez precipitated an injury crisis that had a damaging impact on Liverpool's prior season.
11th November 2020.
The future looked exceptionally bleak.
Talismanic Liverpool centre-half Virgil van Dijk, the man many credit with transforming the club’s fortunes from 2018 onwards, had already been ruled out with an ACL injury that effectively ended his season.
To make matters worse, the side’s remaining first-choice starter was the latest to succumb to the international break curse, likewise joining the Dutch international on the sidelines.
Eight league games into the season, at that point in time, the Reds were third in the English top-flight and only a point behind then high-flying leaders Leicester City.
Fast-forward beyond the death of our 68-game unbeaten home streak at the hand of league minnows Burnley, past a devastating collapse against rivals Manchester City at Anfield, beyond a derby defeat (again, at home) to Everton, and Liverpool were sat in eighth place.
It was a dire position that conjured up repressed memories of the dark ages preceding the enlightened renaissance of Jurgen Klopp’s reign.
With the prospect of a title defence dead in the water and Champions League qualification looking increasingly unlikely, speculation had even begun to creep over the former Dortmund boss’ future, with pundits keen to latch onto comparisons between our season and the German’s final campaign in his homeland.
In retrospect, bleak perhaps didn’t quite cut it when it came to the growing sense of despair fans felt beyond the turn of the year.
Fast forward to 29th July as Virgil van Dijk and Joe Gomez made their return to the pitch in a pre-season cameo against Hertha Berlin.
Fans at the ground cheered the defensive duo’s every touch. Even on social media, a renowned bastion of negativity, the mood seemed buoyant, hopeful.
Liverpool may not have signed anyone beyond Ibrahima Konate (yet) but what did it matter when observing our Dutch colossus and his talented protégé guarding the heart of our backline?
That’s not to ignore the late jubilation fans felt (and rightly so) after the club clawed its way back into the top four last term, finishing five points behind a supposedly remarkable Manchester United side.
But the continued absence of defensive lynchpin Van Dijk beyond the season end felt like something of a continuation of the misery that had very much defined the 2020/21 campaign.
The 29-year-old’s appearance on the touchline in Austria, however, represented a long-awaited lifting of the injury spectre and heralded the near-total return of a positive mood to the Liverpool camp.
That being said, new concerns have since arisen - chief among them the recruitment team’s ongoing struggle to identify a suitable replacement for former Mr. Reliable, Georginio Wijnaldum.
It’s a problem that we can’t afford to ignore but amongst all the growing frustrations spreading like a tumour on social media, it’s important not to forget that the slate of the prior season has practically been wiped clean.
We'll need to be cautious in our efforts to reintegrate Van Dijk and Gomez back into the first-team, of course, lest we wish to risk re-injury.
Yet, dare we say it: things are beginning to look up for us.
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