Liverpool’s Champions League campaign can benefit from the presence of star defender Virgil van Dijk despite the defender’s long-term injury, according to former Manchester United stalwart Rio Ferdinand. The Dutchman, along with Joe Gomez and Joel Matip, is expected to spend the rest of the season on the treatment table after suffering a serious knee ligament injury in October’s Merseyside derby against Everton.
Liverpool have seen their title hopes fade in recent weeks, with the Reds taking a massive blow after falling to a heavy defeat at the hands of Manchester City last Sunday.
Although their chances of ousting Pep Guardiola’s side from the Premier League summit will likely prove a step too far, Liverpool are still in contention to claim their seventh Champions League title this season.
The club will face German outfit RB Leipzig in the round of 16 over two legs, with the first meeting between the two clubs taking place on Tuesday.
Ferdinand, who sealed Champions League glory during his time at United, believes that the Reds should now focus on their European campaign.
The 42-year-old told BT Sport that Van Dijk can help his team maintain a winning mentality just by his presence at the training ground, potentially helping Jurgen Klopp’s side towards yet another continental triumph.
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“A couple of big defeats then your aspirations to win the title are fading,” Ferdinand said ahead of Liverpool’s match against Leicester City on Saturday.
“What they wanted are those leaders in that dressing room to step forward. The likes of Virgil van Dijk – yes you’re not playing but you’re in the building. Milner, Henderson, Thiago, the experience.
“Those guys are going to have to be going around that changing room and making sure they reassure the others that ‘listen, this season isn’t over. We’ve got stuff to play for, the Champions League is still there for us, and we still need to make sure we push ourselves to still have a chance in the league title situation’.”
“They’re not out of it by any means, but if they were to read the papers and listen to all the hype that goes in the media, they would believe they’re fighting for their Champions League position rather than the league.
“That experience is telling I think in these types of situations. The manager, yes, as well but it’s the players, they need to be in that changing room, on a day to day basis, reassuring the others.”
Liverpool’s campaign has been plagued by injuries to key players and spells of rotten luck, with last weekend’s defeat leaving the Reds fourth in the Premier League table, nine points adrift of leaders City.
Klopp suggested earlier this week that his side are fully focused on securing the best possible finish to the season despite their troubles, claiming that there are still plenty of points to play for.
“I knew before we started it would be a really tough one, I’m pretty sure everybody knew it,” Klopp told the club website.
“The numbers of injuries are really high and all these kinds of things, that was always clear. To be really successful in a year you have to be lucky as well.
“If you are not lucky then you have a problem and when you have a problem you have to sort it. But it will not be the perfect season anymore probably then. But it’s not about that.
“For us, we see it like this – we have 15 games to go still, so a lot of points and we will go for it. It’s not about where are the others or where will they end up and they end up, it’s just about us.
“We [will] try our absolute best to make the best season from now on of it. That’s our job.”