Sheffield United's manager explains exactly why losing Jack O'Connell is a bigger blow for his team than the one Liverpool suffered when Virgil van Dijk was injured
Chris Wilder has explained why news that Jack O’Connell will miss the rest of the season through injury has dealt Sheffield United a bigger blow than the one Liverpool suffered when Virgil van Dijk, regarded by many as the best defender in the world, was also ruled out of action by a serious knee complaint.
Wilder confirmed O’Connell is expected to sit out the remainder of the Premier League season ahead of Saturday’s match at Anfield, where fellow centre-half van Dijk was diagnosed with ligament damage following last weekend’s Merseyside derby against Everton.
Although van Dijk’s absence has been described as a potential turning point in this season’s Premier League title race, Wilder insisted the loss of O’Connell could be even more costly for United as they attempt to preserve their top-flight status.
Speaking as his squad prepares to face the reigning champions, Wilder reminded: “It’s all relative. Us losing Jack O’Connell, John Fleck and Lys Mousset are huge blows for us. I’d say bigger blows for us than Virgil van Dijk is to Liverpool, in my opinion.”
“We all have to go through these situations, but there are still some world-class players there (at Liverpool),” Wilder continued. “Even though they may have a lost a world-class player for a lengthy period of time, they have some very good players who can fit into that and an academy which produces players all the time.”
Wilder delivered his prognosis on O’Connell’s condition after discussing his recovery period with the specialist responsible for performing the surgical procedure United hope will cure an issue which has troubled the 26-year-old for much of his career. O’Connell’s ability to master the demands of Wilder’s 3-5-2 system has made him one of the most influential players at United’s disposal. With Fleck (back) and Mousset (toe) also sidelined, Wilder accepts his squad must be at its “absolute maximum” to take something from the meeting with Jurgen Klopp’s side.
Liverpool were last beaten on home soil 25 months ago, when Chelsea knocked them out of the EFL Cup. Despite finishing ninth last season, United cross the Pennines having taken only a point from their first five outings of the new campaign.
“Nobody has got a result there for however long now,” Wilder said. “But there’s no point in getting on the bus if you don’t think you can get something, or that you’re going to lose. I’ve never - ever - done that and my players have the same attitude.
“I understand what Liverpool supporters will be thinking and what an affect that missing a huge player for them will have on their team, even though they’ve got some fantastic players to come into that group.
“People will recognise that missing John, missing Lys and missing Jack is quite a big loss for us and in our situation, ones that really hurt us, possibly more than they do at Liverpool. That’s because of where we are, like I say, as football clubs. I think people recognise that situation.”