'Disgraceful' challenge on Liverpool defender sparked Virgil van Dijk response and public apology

Pre-season football matches are not renowned for strong challenges and player disputes, though one friendly Liverpool were involved in five years ago certainly bucked this trend.

On the back of their Champions League triumph in Madrid, Jurgen Klopp's side flew out to America one month later to take part in games against Borussia Dortmund, Sevilla and Sporting Lisbon. A 3-2 defeat was the outcome in the Reds' opening fixture with Dortmund and a second loss followed the next day against the club's Spanish opponents.

The scoreline was the last thing on the mind of the Liverpool boss or his first-team players, however, as they fled Fenway Park in Boston after conceding a late goal which sealed a Sevilla win. Indeed, this contest had been significantly overshadowed by Joris Gnagnon's dangerous tackle on Yasser Larouci, which occurred with less than 15 minutes to play.

READ MORE: Liverpool force Real Madrid hand as centre-back transfer stance set to be tested

READ MORE: Riccardo Calafiori could change transfer plan and Liverpool have inside man to make it happen

Advancing towards the opposition penalty area with the ball at his feet, the Liverpool left-back was wiped out by the French defender, who earned himself a straight red card and prompted furious reactions from those representing the Reds on the pitch.

Forced off on a stretcher after receiving lengthy treatment, Larouci later left the stadium on crutches with his right leg in a brace to end his pre-season earlier than anticipated. Tensions began to rise early on in this heated affair, with Ever Banega booked early on for the Spanish side and later avoiding a dismissal despite catching Harry Wilson with a stray arm. Diego Carlos also entered the referee's book before half-time as the theme of ill-discipline continued.

Virgil van Dijk headed straight over to Gnagnon at the full-time whistle to made his feelings clear over what he had witnessed before telling the ECHO: "To put in a tackle like that, especially on a young player who has been doing so well in pre-season, I think it says something about him.." James Milner, meanwhile, said: “There were some disgraceful tackles. We know it was a friendly but you don’t see many red cards in a friendly. If you want to foul, pull a shirt. Don’t take a young lad by the knee. Seeing it again it is a disgrace.”

Providing his take on the events that unfolded, Klopp said: “Let me say how the situation is with Yasser; it looks like he was lucky but, of course, how it always is with these things we have to wait a little bit. He couldn’t keep on playing, so that’s the first not-so-good sign but in the dressing room it was okay, similar how it looks to Harry [Wilson]. Harry got a knock on his jaw and a finger in his eye, so not too cool. He should be okay as well but couldn’t carry on as well. That’s the situation.

“He hit him full throttle and, in that moment, (if it was) a little bit different position where he hit him then it’s done. He rolls... he is a sports boy so that was okay, nothing happened there. I don’t know 100%. It looks like he was lucky but I only spoke quickly to the doc and that’s what he said, but but we have to see.”

An apology was issued the following day by Gnagnon as he attempted to clear the air, in which he stated: “I want to publicly apologise to Liverpool, the player’s family and fans. It was an odious act on my part that had no place on the football pitch. All my prayers are with the player and his family.”

Larouci made a full recovery ahead of the 2019/20 campaign commencing and went on to make his first-team debut for the Reds in an FA Cup third-round triumph over Everton in January 2020. The 21-year-old was released at the end of that season and now plays in Ligue 1 for Troyes, spending a year back on loan in the Premier League last season with Sheffield United.

Liverpool face Sevilla again in pre-season at Anfield on August 11.

A version of this piece was first published in 2021