When imagining exactly what could stop Liverpool from winning back-to-back Premier League titles, a long-term injury to Virgil van Dijk would surely be amongst the most concerning scenarios.
A talismanic figure since his January 2018 arrival, van Dijk’s lengthy absence as a result of the ACL injury he suffered in a collision with Jordan Pickford could be a game-changer in the race for the title.
Of course, that isn’t to say Liverpool won’t win the league without him. It’s just tough to argue that their task isn’t much harder now, such is the level of his importance to their cause.
Indeed, it wouldn’t be the first time a major injury to one key player has completely ruined a title challenge and it certainly won’t be the last.
As Jamie Carragher pointed out, even the best teams in the world struggle when faced with such a problem despite the fact they can largely call on some of the most competitive squads ever assembled.
With that in mind, here’s a look at six other times a major injury ruined a team’s title challenge.
Alan Shearer - 1997
It’d be a stretch to say Newcastle United would have won the league in 1997 were it not for Alan Shearer’s ankle injury against Everton but, for the two seasons prior, the Toon Army were genuine contenders.
Coming off the back of a season during which Shearer and Les Ferdinand combined for 49 goals, the latter was sold soon after the former’s ailment and the Magpies lost pretty much all the attacking talent to have made them so special under Kevin Keegan.
Eleven games were drawn that season (four of them 0-0) and neither winners Arsenal nor runners-up Manchester United broke the 80-point barrier, so there was certainly an opportunity missed.
Eduardo - 2008
One of the most gruesome injuries in modern Premier League history, Eduardo’s broken leg suffered at St. Andrew’s against Birmingham was arguably the last time Arsenal were genuinely competitive when it came to trying to win the league.
Yes, they did finish second to Leicester City but it was Tottenham who pushed the Foxes the hardest, so 2008 represented their closest challenge to date.
Four points clear when they headed to the Second City in February, Eduardo’s injury preceded William Gallas’ infamous tantrum as the Gunners drew four games in a row to throw away their lead.
Aymeric Laporte - 2019
Aymeric Laporte’s injury in August 2019 came just after the departure of Vincent Kompany after a storied career with Manchester City, depriving Pep Guardiola of two of the best defenders in the Premier League.
With the Frenchman out of action for pretty much the whole season, Liverpool raced ahead in the title race as City slumped to nine defeats in a single campaign, more than they’d suffered in the previous two combined.
With Kompany gone and Laporte out, the likes of Nicholas Otamendi, John Stones and Fernandinho simply couldn’t shore things up well enough.
Fernando Torres - 2008
Fernando Torres almost led Liverpool to the Premier League title in 2008 by scoring fourteen goals in twenty-four games, though the start of the injury issues that would seriously undermine his ability at the top level in the years to come were starting to rear their ugly head.
Thirteen league games were missed as a result of thigh problems and the only two games Liverpool lost (costing them the league as Manchester United finished four points ahead) Torres was not available for.
Having ripped defences apart when fully fit, Liverpool may have got over the line over a decade before their title win last season had Torres not missed almost a third of their games.
Nemanja Vidic - 2011
Months before Sergio Aguero scored the most iconic goal in Premier League history, Nemanja Vidic saw his season ended out in Basel after the Manchester United captain injured ligaments in his knee.
One of the most dominant central defenders in Premier League history, United would go on to concede three goals or more in three games and would miss out on the league title by goal difference.
Indeed, it’s certainly not hard to imagine them keeping at least some of those goals out should he have been fit.
Roy Keane - 1997
Throwing away an 11-point lead isn’t something you’d associate Sir Alex Ferguson’s relentless Manchester United side of the 1990s with but, in 1997-98, they absolutely crumbled.
Influential captain Roy Keane was injured away at Leeds United just nine games into the campaign as Arsenal overtook them, with United missing his determination in the middle of the park.
During that season, there were two three-game periods where United failed to win favourable fixtures and Keane’s presence may well have stopped standards slipping.
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