Liverpool win vs Tottenham saw repeat of Virgil van Dijk transfer lesson and FSG must act | Football | Sport

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Tottenham v Liverpool: Match in pictures

One of the most decisive matches in Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool reign, the Reds went to north London to face Tottenham in the Premier League in October 2017 and were handed a 4-1 thrashing as Harry Kane and Son Heung-min starred for the hosts at Wembley Stadium. Dejan Lovren partnered Joel Matip in central defence with Joe Gomez at right-back but the Croatian, now playing in Russia, was withdrawn after just half-an-hour due to a disastrous display.

The final result meant Klopp’s charges had conceded 16 goals in just their first nine league games of the 2017-18 season, their worst record after that many top-fought matches since 1964-65.

Months earlier, Liverpool had failed in an attempt to land Virgil van Dijk from Southampton. It was the hammering at the hands of Mauricio Pochettino’s Spurs that made it clear they had to go again in January.

Two months later, Van Dijk was pictured holding aloft a Liverpool shirt after the Merseyside outfit spent a club record £75million to sign him from the Saints. Later that same season, the same team secured a top-four finish, albeit 25 points off top spot, and reached the Champions League final.

Since then, they’ve won a sixth European Cup and ended their 30-year title wait – with Van Dijk integral to both, beating Spurs in the Champions League final in May 2019.

Speaking last year, former Liverpool midfielder and captain Jamie Redknapp reflected: “That defeat left Tottenham sitting third in the table, and Liverpool ninth. Looking back, we can see how significant that result was for Klopp.

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Liverpool win vs Tottenham saw repeat of Virgil van Dijk transfer lesson and FSG must act

Liverpool win vs Tottenham saw repeat of Virgil van Dijk transfer lesson and FSG must act (Image: GETTY)

“It was comedic defending, their leakiest start to a campaign since 1964, and the German said afterwards: ‘It’s not as if Tottenham needed to be genius to get through us.’ Then we saw how he decided to react.”

Four years on and Liverpool’s fresh problems in central defence were again shown at Spurs in the capital, although they emerged with a much-needed victory at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium.

Roberto Firmino and Trent Alexander-Arnold’s goals either side of the break helped secure a massive three points although Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg made it 2-1 just as soon as Liverpool made it 2-0.

Sadio Mane later made it 3-1 after Mohamed Salah had a goal disallowed as Liverpool clinched a massive three points to regain some momentum and move back up to fourth, four points behind leaders Manchester City having played one game more.

It was not the performance or the result – Spurs were actually the team who defended worse on the night – but other events around it that showed Liverpool must take action. Captain Jordan Henderson lined up at the back for the third successive league game with Joel Matip’s return countered by Fabinho’s absence.

Liverpool win vs Tottenham saw repeat of Virgil van Dijk transfer lesson and FSG must act

Liverpool win vs Tottenham saw repeat of Virgil van Dijk transfer lesson and FSG must act (Image: GETTY)

Klopp said of the Brazilian pre-match: “Actually it was nothing really. He just felt something so we had to take him out. Now he’s out. It wasn’t in a challenge or in an intense situation or anything. It’s just how things happen. It is how it is.”

Matip and Henderson was the 11th centre-back partnership Liverpool have used in 20 league games this season. The start of the second half saw the Reds take that tally to 12 as Matip went off with a knock at the interval, with Nat Phillips lining up alongside Henderson for the rest of the match.

Matip’s replacement Phillips took just four minutes to get booked for a poor challenge on Steven Bergwijn although Liverpool held on for just a second win in eight games across all competitions.

The similarities between this and the 2017 match-up are clear, even though the performance and result were different. Liverpool again need to take action regarding their defence, their latest double injury blow made that obvious.

Liverpool have less time to act on their problems this time around though. That, however, is their own fault. They should have had a new centre-back lined up in advance of the January window. Matip’s woes are nothing new.

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Klopp has indicated that owners Fenway Sports Group have denied him a centre-back, or at least made it clear in discussions that signing the kind of defender he’d ideally desire is not a possibility.

“We talk about a centre-half. Yes, it would help, 100 per cent,” he said, adding more recently this week: “Not really – no not really [there is not much chance we will sign a centre-back this week].

Liverpool win vs Tottenham saw repeat of Virgil van Dijk transfer lesson and FSG must act

Liverpool win vs Tottenham saw repeat of Virgil van Dijk transfer lesson and FSG must act (Image: GETTY)

“I would not say absolutely 100 per cent [there will not be a new signing] no but I don’t expect anything to be honest.”

It appears the stall of the club’s hierarchy has been set out. That is in spite of the growing evidence that suggests Liverpool face a challenge to secure Champions League football, never mind retain their title, this term. Liverpool were much, much improved at Spurs but will endure more moments of difficulty in the months ahead.

The FA Cup defeat to Manchester United at Old Trafford on Monday proved that Rhys Williams is not quick enough to cope with the demands of playing in Liverpool’s high line.

Phillips’ last league start saw the Reds keep a clean sheet against Newcastle but that night, the 23-year-old’s ball-playing abilities were shown to be limited and he too lacks pace, though he is strong in the air.

Here, Phillips did not endure the difficult moments he had against Callum Wilson at St James’ Park despite his booking for the foul on Bergwijn, actually making a good recovery to head clear when Son threatened to get into a dangerous position late on.

Phillips was undoubtedly helped by the fact Tottenham’s Harry Kane was withdrawn with a knock at the break and Henderson also played well. But they will not find it so comfortable every game, even if this was against an elite opponent.

Liverpool win vs Tottenham saw repeat of Virgil van Dijk transfer lesson and FSG must act

Liverpool win vs Tottenham saw repeat of Virgil van Dijk transfer lesson and FSG must act (Image: GETTY)

Frankly, neither of Williams or Phillips should be in this position. Williams last season played non-league football while Phillips only had 23 matches of first-team experience before being called upon this term.

Liverpool need more senior options in central defence in order to make sure of a top-four finish and if they also want to win a trophy. Matip and Fabinho have suffered multiple problems each so far this season, making it hypothetically possible at some point that the champions may have to line up with both Williams or Phillips, a nightmare scenario even though Klopp clearly likes the duo, at some point before the campaign ends.

Klopp’s side have a crucial run of fixtures coming up and though Fabinho may soon return and Matip’s knock may be small, the chances of the two getting a regular run of games – and even better staying fit until May – are very limited. Matip could only manage 45 minutes here, and that is an alarming sign given he is only just back from injury.

It is clear Liverpool need a fresh body in before Monday’s deadline. Whether that is in the form of a cheap stopgap signing who can fill in when necessary, a la Ragnar Klavan, or whether FSG dramatically change tune and back Klopp with a £20m-30m addition who can also play a role next season and in the years after that, such as a Sven Botman.

Spurs away proved the turning point for Liverpool in the transfer market a few years ago and it should do so again this time around, even though they won 3-1 rather than losing 4-1. Unfortunately, it might just be too late in the window. If it is, FSG and Klopp will be hoping it doesn’t cost them come May.





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