Virgil van Dijk has been a commanding — even transcendent — presence at the heart of Liverpool’s defense throughout the team’s rise to the top of English and European soccer in recent years.
In a major concern for the Premier League champions, they might have to learn how to cope without their warrior at the back for quite some time.
Early in what proved to be a painful Merseyside derby for Liverpool, Van Dijk was the subject of a reckless lunge by Jordan Pickford that saw the Everton goalkeeper clatter into the extended right leg of the Netherlands defender.
Van Dijk roared in agony and, tellingly, stayed down. And that was when Jürgen Klopp knew it was serious.
“Virgil played I don’t know how many games in a row, he plays with pain, but he couldn’t play on and that’s not good,” Klopp said after the 2-2 draw at Goodison Park.
Indeed, Van Dijk — English soccer’s player of the year from 2018-19 who had played every minute of Liverpool’s previous 74 league games, dating back to September 2018 — immediately came off after lengthy treatment and hobbled gingerly around the field to the locker room.
There was no official word from Liverpool on the potential length of his absence, but Van Dijk reportedly left hospital on crutches in the evening. Broadcaster beIN Sports said it has received information that the player has damaged his anterior cruciate ligament.
With the draw, Liverpool extended its 10-year unbeaten record against its neighbor but Klopp was a frustrated man as he made the short trip home from Goodison.
Aside from the fact Pickford escaped punishment for the challenge on Van Dijk — the VAR seemingly didn’t review the incident, which came after an offside was called — Klopp was unhappy his team had what would have been a winning goal from Jordan Henderson disallowed in the second minute of stoppage time. The VAR did intervene this time, spotting Sadio Mane was offside by the narrowest of margins.
Mane had given Liverpool a third-minute lead, only for Michael Keane to equalize with a towering header at a corner. Mohamed Salah reclaimed the lead for the champions with his sixth goal of the campaign, but Dominic Calvert-Lewin grabbed Everton’s second equalizer by rising high to power home a left-wing cross for his 10th goal in seven club matches in all competitions.
Van Dijk might have been marking Keane and Calvert-Lewin for both of those Everton chances. It is potentially a sign of things to come for Liverpool.
Everton dropped points for the first time this season in its fifth match but stayed top, three points above Liverpool.
Sergio Aguero didn’t score on his return to the Manchester City lineup for the first time in nearly four months. He was at the center of a potentially contentious incident, though, in City’s 1-0 win over Arsenal.
In the 42nd minute, Aguero was seen complaining about a decision to female assistant referee Sian Massey-Ellis. As Massey-Ellis moved along the touchline, Aguero walked next to her and placed his arm around her neck in an action that would be in breach of coronavirus guidelines.
The Argentina international was not sanctioned.
“Sergio is the nicest person I ever met in my life,” City manager Pep Guardiola said. "Look for problems in other situations, not in this one.”
Raheem Sterling scored City’s winner in the 23rd minute of a hard-fought game at Etihad Stadium as the hosts coped without injured Kevin De Bruyne. City is in midtable and three points behind title rival Liverpool but has a game in hand.
REDEMPTION FOR MAGUIRE, FERNANDES
Finally something to celebrate for Harry Maguire after a tough few months for the Manchester United captain.
There was redemption, too, for Bruno Fernandes in United's 4-1 win at Newcastle.
Maguire scored a fine header for United's equalizer, days after getting sent off playing for England. He has produced some suspect defending for United this season, into which he came on the back of being arrested after a late-night incident on the Greek island of Mykonos.
As for Fernandes, he had a penalty saved when the score was 1-1 but made amends by scoring a brilliant goal into the top corner after a counterattack in the 86th. Aaron Wan-Bissaka and Marcus Rashford added even later goals.
Chelsea’s defensive vulnerability was exposed in a 3-3 home draw with Southampton, which equalized in the second minute of stoppage time through Jannik Vestergaard after having already rallied from 2-0 down.
Timo Werner scored Chelsea’s first two goals, and played in Kai Havertz to make it 3-2, but the hosts were undone by dreadful defending and goalkeeping.
For Southampton’s second goal, Kurt Zouma underhit a back pass before goalkeeper Kepa Arrizabalaga made two errors in a matter of seconds to allow Che Adams to score.
Kepa was filling in for the injured Edouard Mendy, while another new signing — center back Thiago Silva — was also missing. While Chelsea’s attack is starting to purr as key forwards return from injury, the defense looks to be the team’s biggest barrier to a concerted title challenge.
Steve Douglas is at https://twitter.com/sdouglas80