Liverpool’s season is under threat if being de-railed as defender Virgil van Dijk faces a battle to play again in this campaign.
The Dutchman is set to undergo surgery on an injury to his anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) after suffering it during Saturday’s Merseyside derby.
A horror tackle from Jordan Pickford saw the Everton goalkeeper clatter van Dijk with a wild lunge, forced him off just 11 minutes.
While a timeframe has not been set on van Dijk’s return, Liverpool could be without their key man for weeks or, more likely, months.
It comes following a summer where Jurgen Klopp opted not to sign a fourth-choice option amid Dejan Lovren’s departure; with injury-prone pair Joe Gomez and Joel Matip the only recognised centre-halves available.
Klopp also has Fabinho who can occupy the role, but the Liverpool boss may look to try and strengthen that area before or during January’s transfer window.
Here are five players who could fill the void.
1. Ozan Kabak
Liverpool were linked with Schalke star Kabak in the summer but chose not to make a formal bid.
The 20-year-old is highly-rated in Germany but would not come cheap.
Kabak reportedly has a release clause that would allow him to leave next summer for £41million, although Schalke were adamant they would not let him go before then at least.
The youngster said recently: “My personal aim is to become a top defender in maybe two or three years, like Virgil van Dijk.”
Liverpool could do with that in a few months.
2. Antonio Rudiger
It wouldn’t be ideal, but Rudiger could offer a short-term fix if Liverpool were able to snap him up on loan in the January window.
The fitness of Gomez and Matip will be a cause for concern for Klopp, who could at least add Rudiger to his squad as decent back-up.
The German international possesses plenty of top level experience, though there are a few question marks over his capabilities following last season.
He’s not playing at Chelsea at the moment, who were open to letting him go this summer.
Whether they would let him join a direct rival though is another matter.
3. Nat Phillips
While it would be easy for Liverpool to enter panic stations, they’re not a club known for making reckless decisions.
Van Dijk may be out for an extended period, but Klopp still has enough in his ranks to at least plug the gap for the time being.
Gomez and Matip will likely be the regular starting duo, but Fabinho more than showed he can do a job with his man of the match display against Chelsea.
Also at Klopp’s disposal is 23-year-old Nat Phillips, who played more than 20 times on loan at Bundesliga 2 side VFB Stuttgart last season, as well as a solitary appearance for Liverpool in the FA Cup win over Everton.
He was involved with the Reds in pre-season and would provide adequate cover to the current crop – at least until January.
And if he performs well it could be the chance he’s been looking for.
4. Rhys Williams
Philipps isn’t the only centre-back already at Liverpool who could force his way in Klopp’s plans.
Youngster Rhys Williams has already made two appearances in the Carabao Cup this season following a year on loan at National League North side Kidderminster Harriers.
The 19-year-old was rewarded with a long-term contract last month, suggesting Klopp has ideas for him going forward.
Sepp van der Berg and Billy Koumetio are both thought of highly at Melwood as well, but Williams is currently ahead of them in the pecking order.
5. Ben White
The Brighton defender is on Liverpool’s radar with the club scouting him heavily during his loan spell with Leeds.
Liverpool were targeting a move for White this summer but were eventually priced out of a transfer by Brighton who are desperate to keep hold of him.
White has been playing regularly for The Seagulls and is valued at around £25million.
But Leeds failed with two summer bids – the second of which was in that ballpark – suggesting Liverpool would have to eclipse that figure to take him to Anfield.
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