Liverpool still “hope for a miracle” regarding the fitness of Virgil Van Dijk but manager Jurgen Klopp has accepted for the first time his key defender will almost certainly not play again this season.
The Holland captain has been out with an ACL injury since October’s Merseyside derby and while regular social media updates from the centre-back’s rehabilitation in Dubai have raised optimism among fans, his manager was less convinced.
Following his injury Van Dijk was removed from Liverpool’s Premier League squad just before the deadline for submissions – he had already been included in the Champions League roster – but even if his name reappears when the club resubmits their updated paperwork this week, Klopp said nothing should be interpreted by that.
“I don’t know where these things are coming from. No doctor really told me that there is a chance for Virgil to play in this season again,” he said ahead of the visit of Brighton.
“I don’t want to say that is absolutely impossible but it is not likely, so we don’t have to discuss these things really.
“If we have space we will put them all on (the list). Even when all the medical people tell us there is no chance we put them on because we believe in miracles from time to time.
“But if there is no place then we have to consider these type of things and say the chances are not too big so we have to make a decision.
“But if they are on the list then it is only because we hope for nearly a miracle – that is it.”
When Liverpool submitted their squad to the Premier League in October it was one short of the maximum 25 names allowed for senior players.
Since then Van Dijk’s fellow central defenders Joe Gomez and Joel Matip have both been ruled out of the remainder of the campaign, so their removal this week would free up space for new signing Ben Davies, who arrived from Preston for an initial £500,000.
Schalke defender Ozan Kabak, who will join the squad once his international clearance has been passed following the agreement of a £1million loan deal, would qualify as an under-21 player.
Another change will see the removal of Takumi Minamino, who has joined Southampton on loan having struggled to break into a forward line comprising Mohamed Salah, Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mane.
The Japan international has made 31 appearances – the majority as substitute – after his £7.2m arrival from RB Salzburg a year ago.
Klopp insists, however, the 26-year-old still has a long-term future at the club.
“Takumi is an incredibly good player and we didn’t give him enough chances, that is the truth. That is 100 per cent my fault as well,” said the manager.
“There were not a lot a clubs where I thought it made sense to let him go to but Southampton made sense.
“If Takumi stays fit he has a good chance of playing 17 games which helps everybody. It helps Southampton, it helps us because the only thing Takumi was lacking was games in a row.
“I would have loved to keep him just to have the option but because Takumi is a long-term project – always was – we see a lot of potential in Takumi and it makes sense that he plays and comes back in a completely different mindset, confidence level, all these kind of things.
“He doesn’t have to change anything, he doesn’t have to prove anything, he just has to gain confidence and rhythm and he will be fine. I hope it is a win-win situation.”
Neither of Liverpool’s two new signings are likely to feature in Wednesday night’s visit of Brighton, Davies could potentially make the squad, while Kazak has not received international clearance, but Klopp is grateful for the long-term options they provide.
“At the moment we are without our first four centre-half choices which is really strange and only one of them will come back in the next week or so and that is Fabinho and he is a six,” said the Reds boss.
“We needed players. Our problem is always, and for months, is if one more thing happens then we don’t know what to do. Then we start struggling.
“The solutions we found so far are good and now we have more options.
“For both players it is a big chance for us as well and that’s what I really like about the situation.”