Liverpool are still feeling the effects of Virgil van Dijk’s serious injury at Everton this season.
It feels like an eternity ago that the Reds were involved in a highly-controversial Merseyside Derby that forced them to settle for a point after Sadio Mane’s later winner was chalked off by VAR.
But of all the reverberations on that dramatic afternoon at Goodison Park, none of them were more damning than the Jordan Pickford challenge that saw Van Dijk forced off the pitch.
Pickford’s tackle on Van Dijk
Many Liverpool fans are rightfully still bewildered that Pickford wasn’t dismissed for a brutal tackle that could see Van Dijk spend the remainder of the 2020/21 campaign on the treatment table.
The incident was deemed as a human error that, regardless of Van Dijk having been offside at the time of the challenge, should have sent the Everton goalkeeper for an early bath.
Tough pill to swallow
“There’s nothing more that can be said, the process was they went backwards to go forwards and then stopped at step two and it’s as simple as that. The VAR hub is totally enclosed, nobody can access it.
“By the time you restart with the offside decision, even if you could get hold of them, it’s too late because the game would have restarted and once it restarts you can never go back.”
It’s a difficult situation, there’s no two ways about it, but Liverpool fans have finally been offered a deeper explanation than ever by the on-field official himself this week.
Michael Oliver’s explanation
That’s because Michael Oliver, revered as arguably the Premier League’s best referee, gave an exclusive interview to the Daily Mail where he discussed the controversial incident in depth.
You can check out their step-by-step guide of the referee’s response to Pickford’s tackle, complete with Oliver’s quotes, down below to get into the minds of the officials on Merseyside.
“It was a big game,” Oliver reflected. “Both teams were flying. The assistant has given offside and there is the delay in the flag, as we have had this season. Jordan then comes out to Virgil.
‘We got sucked into going step by step’
“The thought initially was: ‘it can’t be a penalty because it’s offside, so we need to check the offside first. I think I said to the VAR: ‘If it’s not offside, I’m going to give a penalty.’
“I genuinely don’t think Pickford has done anything apart from try to spread himself but he did it the wrong way, as the injury has shown.
“We have all, myself included, not thought about the challenge as much as we should have done. We could still have given offside and sent Pickford off.
“What I was surprised about looking at it afterwards was that nothing was expected on-field in terms of a red card. None of the players were asking for that.
“We got sucked too much into going step by step as opposed to thinking of the bigger process, which was considering the challenge as well and not just the fact it can’t be a penalty.
“We should have restarted with the offside, as we did, but with a different punishment for Jordan Pickford.”
At the end of the day, human beings are fallible and the refereeing team made a costly error here, not that it will reassure Liverpool too much when you consider the cost to their team this season.
Van Dijk’s road to recovery
It’s scant consolation for Van Dijk who was forced to undergo knee surgery due to the damage sustained by his ACL and is currently working his way through a rehabilitative programme.
However, sad as it might have been, different officiating wouldn’t have prevented the tackle that so cruelly cut Van Dijk’s season short, even if it would mean that Pickford was acceptably punished.