Ex-Liverpool defender Glen Johnson thinks his former club will be fine in the absence of Virgil van Dijk as long as Fabinho manages to “step in” to his shoes.
News of anterior cruciate ligament damage to the 29-year-old, sustained in a controversial high challenge by Everton goalkeeper Jordan Pickford in Saturday’s 2-2 Merseyside derby draw, is the nightmare scenario for the Reds.
Not only does the injury rob them of one of their most influential players for the majority of their Premier League title defence, but also leaves Liverpool with just two senior centre-backs in Joel Matip, who has been plagued by niggling injuries himself, and Joe Gomez.
Jurgen Klopp opted not to replace Dejan Lovren when he left for Zenit St Petersburg in the summer and was content to gamble on utilising midfielder Fabinho as cover.
Van Dijk was a key man in last season’s title success and has been a virtual ever-present since signing from Southampton in January 2018 – he has started 95 league matches and missed only one, while Saturday was only the second time he has failed to complete 90 minutes.
But Johnson reckons Fabinho has all the attributes to fill in for Klopp’s men.
“I personally think it will be Fabinho who slots in there,” Johnson told the Daily Mirror.
“We saw him do it a couple of weeks ago and he was man of the match, so he could be the one who slots in. As long as he can maintain that sort of level then I don’t think it will be too much of an issue.
“Teams will show a team like Liverpool respect, so they won’t be pressing all the time from the front.
“You need players at the back who can set the game up, and I think Fabinho can certainly do that, because obviously he’s very good on the ball and used to playing in midfield.
“Of course they’d much rather be going into games with Van Dijk, but I do think Fabinho can step in.”