Virgil van Dijk’s injury will have a massive effect on Liverpool’s season and could cost them the title.
No club can afford to lose the best centre-half in the world and pretend it won’t make a huge difference.
Recent history suggests one bad tackle can have a damaging effect on clubs chasing titles or major trophies, and Jordan Pickford’s challenge was a shocker.
I’m convinced there was no malice involved. It was just a very poorly-timed tackle.
Pickford did not deserve to be subjected to cowardly death threats and a torrent of social media abuse.
But in Van Dijk’s absence Liverpool will have to plug the gaps and, perhaps, defend a little deeper than manager Jurgen Klopp’s preferred high line.
They were already showing signs of being vulnerable. In 12 games since they clinched the title, no Premier League team has conceded more than Liverpool’s 25 goals. It took them 38 games to concede the previous 25.
And the psychological damage will only become apparent as the season unfolds.
In 2008, Arsenal were three points clear at the top with 11 games left when striker Eduardo suffered a horrific broken leg after Birmingham defender Martin Taylor had mistimed a tackle.
Gunners defender William Gallas sat disconsolately on the pitch for two minutes after the final whistle following Birmingham’s equaliser.
And Arsenal were overhauled by Manchester United on the run-in.
Two years later they were in contention for the title again, just three points off the lead, when Aaron Ramsey’s leg was broken in six places by a Ryan Shawcross tackle at Stoke.
The Gunners trailed home 11 points behind champions Chelsea.
More recently, Liverpool were going well in the Champions League final against Real Madrid two years ago until Mo Salah was forced to retire hurt following a Sergio Ramos challenge.
And going further back, I wonder if Vinnie Jones wiping out Steve McMahon in the opening exchanges of the FA Cup Final 32 years ago affected Liverpool’s shock defeat by Wimbledon at Wembley?
Fabinho is a fantastic player, and he could prove to be an able deputy for Van Dijk, but Pickford’s lunge may have altered that crucial dynamic in Liverpool’s side.
Liverpool are keen to repeat last season’s success – and you don’t want to miss a thing, surely?
From all of Liverpool’s updates to the must-read Reds stories, get them straight to your inbox without fuss by signing up for the fantastic Mirror Football newsletter!
It’s been an extremely interesting start to the season for Jurgen Klopp’s men.
They got their title defence off to a shaky start as they edged out a seven-goal thriller against Leeds, before going on to conceded seven in a hammering by Aston Villa.
Virgil van Dijk’s season was ended by injury in the 2-2 draw at Everton, leaving the title favourites looking far less secure at the back – especially with Alisson’s injury worries too.
But there’s no slowing down in what is going to be a busy campaign – with Klopp ensuring his men continue at full pace as they bid for more title glory.
The easiest way to keep up with everything going on at Anfield? It’s by signing up.
Put your email at the top of this article or follow the instructions on this link.
I tipped Klopp to retain the title, and I’m not going to desert him after one bad challenge. But I’m not so sure now. I am staggered that referee Michael Oliver and VAR official David Coote overlooked an obvious red card.
And I can only sympathise with Van Dijk, who faces a long and lonely road back to fitness.
It’s one of the most devastating feelings in football to go in on a Monday and, while your team-mates are training outside, you’re just a number in the treatment room.
Only Pickford knows what was going through his mind. He was guilty of recklessness, but the fallout has been magnified.
Certain players and teams don’t like each other, but you like to think grudges are kept in check.
I had my leg broken at Watford in 2008 by Al Bangura, who apologised for his challenge days later. Only he knows if his contrition was genuine.
I was once accused of trying to ‘do’ Arsenal’s Patrick Vieira in an FA Cup tie (below left), when my studs-up challenge for a bouncing ball caught him on the shin.
I swear that if I had gone through with my tackle I would have broken his leg – but at the last split-second I checked it.
And at Birmingham I was given a retrospective red card for an alleged use of the elbow against Chelsea’s Mateja Kezman – but it was a complete accident. We lost the game 1-0. That was the real damage.
It remains to be seen if the real damage to Liverpool’s defence of the title has yet to manifest itself in the long months ahead without the world’s best centre-half.