If Virgil Van Dijk has a Euro 2020 target, that could pose a real dilemma for Liverpool
With Juventus and Barcelona gone from the Champions League, there is a pathway there for Liverpool to go on and win it - but only if Jurgen Klopp has a rethink about the way the side are setting up.
And I also feel there could be a real dilemma for the club if Virgil van Dijk makes good progress in his recovery following surgery with a target of the Champions League final, or the Euro 2020 finals, in his head.
When they are on top form, Liverpool are still a very good side. We just haven’t seen that top form lately and they have imploded in recent weeks. Confidence and fatigue play a part but I feel the manager has to take some of the blame, for the tactics he has been employing. They still play that high line and it’s getting exploited, but Klopp hasn’t adjusted his formation to suit the players he has available.
It’s fine to play that high line when you have Van Dijk at the back and Henderson pressing from midfield, but if you don’t have the personnel, you need to adjust and Klopp’s not done that.
If they continue to play that high line, a PSG or a Manchester City or a Bayern Munich will destroy them. Those teams can all defend but have pace going forward and could cause Liverpool problems. So if Liverpool can get a settled defence, and drop back a bit, the Liverpool we saw last year could give most teams left in the Champions League a tough game.
But without a solid central defensive pairing – and I don’t mean Kabak and Philips – it will be too much for them. Against players like Mbappe or Haaland or Icardi, they would be easily found out.
So they need to tweak their tactics. When you win the league with a particular style of play, it’s hard to change that. But we have seen in the Premier League that other teams have adjusted and worked out how to play against Liverpool.
In the Manchester derby last weekend, City were reluctant to change the way they’d been playing, and United had them worked out. They hit City on the break, they knew if they kept their wingers out wide they could exploit Rodri in midfield, and they did an excellent job.
I think teams have worked out how to cope with Liverpool and if opponents sit deep against them, Liverpool don’t have anyone who can break them down. If Liverpool don’t get space to run in behind, there’s not much they can do.
When your centre backs are so high up the field, straight away your forwards are also further up the pitch and you lose that little bit of space you need, so if Liverpool drop back, bring the other team out a bit more, they might get that space. It’s not a massive change but it’s one they need to make.
I still feel that Liverpool, on their day, are capable of beating anyone, and if they could get Van Dijk back for the closing stages in Europe, they would have to be one of the favourites. But how they handle Van Dijk, and his recovery, is so important, to Liverpool and Holland.
It all depends on when he comes back. If he’s back at the end of April, he will want to carry on in the Champions League – presuming Liverpool are still in it – and through to the Euros.
But he won’t do himself any justice by turning up, either for a Champions League final or the Euros, if he’s not right. I’ve been there, missing a chunk of a season with injury, and you need games to feel your way back into it. Neither Holland nor Liverpool can afford him to take a risk and do more damage.
I missed a full season at club level with a groin injury, in 2012/13, and while I did play once at the very end of the season, for Ireland against Georgia, I still wasn’t right. The team were going to America after that match and Giovanni Trapattoni asked me to go but I had to say no. I was out of contract at my club and I needed to be right for the next season.
If Van Dijk’s back fit in late April and the club have some league games where he could play, that would give everyone a boost, that air of dominance at the back – which van Dijk brings and which has been missing in his absence – could come back.
In the Fulham game last week, as soon as that Liverpool teamsheet was up, you’d have fancied Fulham. That would change if they had Van Dijk back.
But it all depends on his timing. If he got some games in late April he’d be an asset, but if it came to a stage where his first game back was the Champions League final, you’d have to worry. And if that was the case he should back out and focus on getting ready for next season, which would of course mean he’d miss the Euros.
I imagine Van Dijk will be thinking that this summer is a great chance to win something with his national team. Holland have a really good squad and he will maybe feel pressure from his team-mates to get back.
If he has half a chance, he will play in the Euros, I think he will have that as a target.
That could lead to a real stand-off, if he’s not played for Liverpool but makes himself available for Holland. But if he’s back playing for Liverpool before the end of the season, he will definitely want to be on that stage of the Euros in June.
It’s hard with a cruciate injury. If he gets the all-clear, the only worry would be muscle injuries as he’s not played any football for the last few months. If he says he’s fit, the cruciate won’t be the concern, it will be other minor niggles which players pick up.
It’s hard in that situation, you’ve had a cruciate, you’ve put so much work into that muscle group but you can have so much work done on one part of your body that maybe the other leg is not as strong. You can do all the lunges you want in the gym but you can’t compare it to doing a lunging tackle in a game.
You can only know when you are out on the pitch, chasing down a ball. You’ll known then if your groin or calf or hamstring can stand up to it. It’s very rare that a player comes back from a long time out with one injury and then doesn’t get a secondary injury somewhere in the body.
I know that Liverpool’s medical team will be on top of that, but I don’t know if as a club Liverpool will be able to stop him from going to the Euros if he declares himself fit.
Alan Judge has angrily denied accusations made by referee Darren Drysdale that the former Ireland international called him a ‘cheating bald c***’ during last month’s game against Northampton when the referee squared up to the Ipswich player.