Liverpool midfielder Georginio Wijnaldum labelled Jordan Pickford’s tackle which sidelined Virgil Van Dijk for several months as “stupid” and believes Everton go “way too far” in Merseyside derbies.
The Holland international appeared to be voicing the general view from inside the dressing room as manager Jurgen Klopp fully supported the midfielder, suggesting neither Pickford nor Richarlison – sent off for a challenge which injured Thiago Alcantara – were even trying to play the ball.
Van Dijk requires surgery on knee ligament damage sustained when the England goalkeeper launched a knee-high challenge at him during the 2-2 draw at Goodison Park.
Pickford escaped punishment due to apparent confusion over VAR rules – official David Coote had already ruled Van Dijk was offside – and that has only compounded Liverpool’s anger.
“First of all we are still devastated. Everyone still has a really bad feeling about it,” said Wijnaldum.
“When we were speaking with the players after Saturday none of the players had slept because of what happened with Virgil.
“The way Pickford went in on the challenge was completely, in my opinion, stupid.
“I believe he didn’t want to injure Virgil the way he injured him but the way he took the tackle, basically he didn’t care about what happened after the tackle.
“We had a lot of games against Everton; in my opinion they take it way too far in the games we play against them.
“We know it is a derby and everyone wants to win so sometimes you go a little bit over the top but it was too much. The tackle from Richarlison on Thiago was also a nasty one.
“Accidents can always happen in football, you can be unlucky with a tackle and injure someone but the way they were doing it is completely unacceptable.
“It makes it harder that they don’t get punished.”
The loss of Van Dijk, who played for all but 35 minutes of two full Premier League seasons, is still quite raw for the Liverpool squad.
Klopp fielded several questions about it at his pre-match press conference ahead of their Champions League opener against Ajax in Amsterdam and that did not improve his mood.
“A couple of days ago something happened which should not have happened in a football game,” he said.
“It was not the first time and it probably won’t be the last time but I see it similar to my players – both challenges were difficult to accept.
“Injuries happen in football, very often in challenges but often both players just try to play the ball. That was not the case in these two challenges and it makes it so different and difficult to take.
“In the last four years we were the leader of the fair play table. You don’t get anything for that, it is most often something to make a joke about that you are top of that table but not in the real table.
“We were pretty high in both tables which means you can play football without these types of challenges.”
If Klopp’s defensive headache was not bad enough, Joel Matip did not travel as a precaution after sustaining a knock at the weekend.
It means Liverpool’s one fit senior centre-back Joe Gomez is likely to be paired with midfielder Fabinho, an option Klopp has taken before – specifically almost 18 months ago in the Champions League against Bayern Munich when Van Dijk was injured.
Going into the season with only three central defenders, one of whom was the injury-prone Matip, following the sale of Dejan Lovren was a risk Klopp was prepared to take and he rejected criticism of that.
“As a football club it is difficult to have four world-class centre-halves – it is pretty expensive and one of them doesn’t play for a long, long time because it’s not a position you rotate too much,” added Klopp, bristling at a question about potential replacements in the January transfer window.
“If anyone wants to tell us we made a mistake in the transfer window – I think (ex-Reds defender turned pundit) Jamie Carragher mentioned already something – that is the reason why they don’t do this job and do the other job.
“You cannot have the solutions before you have the problems. Yes, it is not perfect, for sure not.
“We work on solutions for now and from a specific moment on we will try to find solutions for the future but I have no idea how they will look in this moment, sorry.”