Former Liverpool midfielder Harry Kewell believes that the return of Virgil van Dijk will be key to the Reds’ hopes of delivering Club World Cup glory this weekend.
Van Dijk missed their last-gasp semi-final win over Monterrey through illness, though while Kewell went on to praise parts of their defensive display without the Dutchman on Wednesday evening, he insisted that the centre-back’s return to full health is pivotal to their hopes of overcoming Brazilian side Flamengo.
Speaking to BBC Sport, Kewell – a Club World Cup runner-up with Liverpool in 2005 – highlighted the specific qualities of Van Dijk as a defender and argued that the Reds missed his presence and guidance in midweek.
He said: “People talk about him being a great defender because he can play out from the back and is comfortable on the ball, but a defender’s first job is to defend – and in the case of Van Dijk, it is to organise the rest of his defence, too.
“That is what Liverpool missed the most against Monterrey.
“Despite their lack of composure at the back, they actually defended pretty well for the most part, but one thing I would criticise was the goal they conceded.
“I don’t see that happening if Van Dijk is on the pitch.
“Clearly, they need him back in the team to face Flamengo – if he is fit, Liverpool will be calm and comfortable at the back and everyone will be a lot more relaxed.”
Despite Kewell’s concerns, Jurgen Klopp may well be pleased his side were able to dispatch of Mexican outfit Monterrey without the help of Van Dijk nor the services of regular starters Sadio Mane, Roberto Firmino and Trent Alexander-Arnold from the beginning – as well as while resorting to fielding Jordan Henderson as a makeshift centre-back.
Their lack of cover in central defence perhaps makes Kewell’s analysis seem harsh yet understandable, with Rogerio Funes Mori poking home unattended in the Liverpool box to equalise in the first half.
One would imagine a fully fit squad, not to mention one with the added assistance of a player recently voted as the second-best in the world, will only enhance Liverpool’s chances of becoming world champions.
Meanwhile, Klopp has already warned opponents Flamengo of a ‘different’ Liverpool ahead of the clash, so perhaps Kewell’s concerns will be addressed in some fashion during Saturday’s final.
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