Manchester City are now odds-on to win the Premier League title after Liverpool announced Virgil van Dijk needs surgery on a serious knee injury.
The Dutch centre-back has damaged knee ligaments following a reckless challenge on him by Toffees goalkeeper Jordan Pickford six minutes into the Merseyside Derby at Goodison Park on Saturday, which ended 2-2.
Liverpool were still favourites for the title despite a 7-2 thrashing by Aston Villa before the international break, but the loss of Van Dijk for the majority, if not entire, season has seen the Reds drift to 9/4 with Sky Bet.
City are now 10/11 to win the Premier League for a third time in four seasons.
- Manchester City - 10/11
- Liverpool - 9/4
- Tottenham - 12/1
- Chelsea, Everton - 20/1
- Arsenal, Manchester Utd - 28/1
It is a nightmare scenario for Liverpool. Van Dijk had not previously missed a minute of league action since September 2019 and his influence on the team has been instrumental in them winning the Champions League and Premier League in the last two years.
Manager Jurgen Klopp is now having to consider what life for his team will mean without the 29-year-old, a problem exacerbated by the Reds' decision not to sign a replacement when Dejan Lovren moved to Zenit St Petersburg in the summer, insisting midfielder Fabinho could fill in at the back – and he has done already this season.
This situation is startlingly similar to the problems suffered by Man City when Aymeric Laporte missed the majority of 2019/20 following Vincent Kompany's departure at the end of the previous campaign, with Fernandinho forced from his successful holding midfield role to cover at centre-back.
Pep Guardiola's team collapsed defensively, and helped contribute to the Reds romping to a first title in 30 years.
The bookies obviously envisage similar problems for Klopp and Liverpool, as the German must now work out how to plug the enormous gap left by the absence of arguably the world's best defender.
Graham Ruthven reflects on Liverpool losing Virgil van Dijk to injury. Take a look by clicking the image below...
Against Everton, the out-of-form Joe Gomez was replaced by Joel Matip, himself absent since opening day because of injury. Unless Fabinho is seen as the solution, Klopp faces having to pair an untested and injury-troubled duo for pretty much a full season - the first clue we will get to his longer-term solution will come against Ajax in the Champions League on Wednesday.
Another less likely option could be 23-year-old Nat Phillips. He has just one FA Cup appearance to his name either side of two loan spells at Stuttgart last season and is now back-up alongside highly-rated but unproven teenager Billy Koumetio.
Van Dijk's injury, which adds to the absence of goalkeeper Allison, is the last thing an already leaky Liverpool defence needed.
They have conceded 13 goals in five matches – including seven at Aston Villa – and without the Dutchman there has to be real questions raised over their chances of staying the distance in a title race.