Van Dijk needs right knee surgery, set for long absence

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND (AP) — Liverpool’s hopes of retaining the Premier League title took a major hit when the champions announced Virgil van Dijk requires surgery on his right knee after damaging ligaments in a challenge by Everton goalkeeper Jordan Pickford during the Merseyside derby.

Liverpool did not give a timescale on Van Dijk’s absence, but an injury of that nature will likely keep the Netherlands international out for a long period.

“Following surgery,” Liverpool said, “Van Dijk will begin a rehabilitation programme with the club’s medical team to enable him to reach full fitness as soon as possible.”

Without its best defender, Liverpool Manager Jürgen Klopp has two specialist centre-backs in Joel Matip — who has recently returned from injury — and Joe Gomez, who has struggled for form this season.

Fabinho, a defensive central midfielder, can also drop back to play at centre half if necessary.

Liverpool also is currently hampered by the loss of its first-choice goalkeeper, Alisson Becker.

The games are coming thick and fast for the team, which starts its Champions League group-stage campaign tomorrow with a trip to Ajax. There are group games in successive midweeks until the next international break in mid-November.

Liverpool has 10 points from a possible 15 after the opening five games of its title defence, and lies three points behind first-place Everton.