Liverpool's impressive record without Van Dijk as Klopp's backup centre-backs step up in absence of £75m defender

LIVERPOOL feared their Premier League title defence was over after just five matches.

In a feisty Merseyside derby, Everton goalkeeper Jordan Pickford hacked down the Reds' star man Virgil van Dijk in a horror lunge.

The £75million Dutch defender suffered a season-ending knee ligament injury.

And Jurgen Klopp was left tearing his hair out after Joe Gomez suffered a long-term knee tendon injury of his own.

But incredibly, Liverpool have actually been performing BETTER without Van Dijk this season.

In all competitions, Van Dijk played eight times, with Liverpool conceding a staggering 16 goals – letting in exactly two per game.

The former Southampton star's stats were hampered slightly by the 7-2 obliteration at Aston Villa, while he also played in the 4-3 opening-day win over Leeds.

But since going down injured, the Reds' backup brigade have risen to the occasion.

Klopp has called on injury-prone Joel Matip to hold down the fort, with a revolving door of centre-back partners this season.

Youngster Rhys Williams has played five times in the Champions League, while Nathaniel Phillips has turned out twice in the Premier League.

And midfield anchorman Fabinho has also played in the heart of defence a number of times this season, having suffered a hamstring injury of his own in November.

Despite a lack of a consistent back-four, Liverpool have conceded just SIX times in 11 matches – or 0.55 per game – since Van Dijk was crocked.

The second-string centre-backs have also kept clean sheets in six of those 11 games, too – compared to just two in eight games with the Dutchman.

But the Reds haven't just been keeping it tight, they've been winning matches too.

In all, Klopp's reigning champions have won eight of their 11 matches (73 per cent), while losing just ONCE, as a second-string side tasted Champions League defeat at home to Atalanta.

With Van Dijk this term, Liverpool had won just 50 per cent of their games, with four wins, three draws and one defeat in eight games.

And arguably the biggest success story for Klopp isn't his talented youngsters holding their own, it's been Matip and Fabinho's partnership.

The pair have started four matches together as a centre-back duo – conceding precisely ZERO.

In the 2018-19 season, Matip and Fabinho kept Bayern Munich quiet in a 0-0 draw in the Champions League last-16, as the Reds went on to lift the title.

And they've started together three times this season, beating Wolves 4-0 on Sunday night, as well as Ajax 1-0 and Leicester 3-0.

While a fully-fit Van Dijk would walk into any team on the planet, the form of Klopp's backup stars have at least given him something to think about in 2021-22.

Knowing he can rest his star man more often and still keep it tight in defence will be massive.

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