EVERTON manager Carlo Ancelotti insists suggestions goalkeeper Jordan Pickford’s reckless tackle on Virgil van Dijk was pre-meditated are “not fair”.

The England number one has come in for criticism from all sides, with Liverpool midfielder Georginio Wijnaldum continuing the attack earlier this week by suggesting the Sunderland-born goalkeeper was “stupid” and made the challenge without concern for the player’s welfare.

Ancelotti has dismissed that and said everyone at the club is sorry about Van Dijk’s knee ligament injury, which will keep him out for several months.

“To be clear, we are really sorry for the injury of Virgil van Dijk. Every one of us hopes he can recover soon and well,” said the Everton boss. “There was this contact with Jordan Pickford - it was mistimed contact but the fact the Premier League is so fast, it is not so difficult to arrive a little bit later.

“It can happen. He arrived a little bit later but his intention was to try to catch the ball. It was not to hurt Virgil van Dijk.

“To say it was pre-meditated and this and that, in my opinion, is too much. Virgil van Dijk knows this. This is football and unfortunately you can be injured.

“Jordan is really sad, really disappointed (van Dijk is injured) but to say it was pre-meditated, it was stupid, is not fair.

“It was a strong contact, maybe mistimed, but sometimes in football it can happen.”

Ancelotti also revealed forward James Rodriguez and captain Seamus Coleman are out of Sunday’s visit to Southampton after sustaining injuries in last weekend’s Merseyside derby.

Defender Coleman limped off with a hamstring problem early in the first half and while Rodriguez completed 90 minutes but reported an issue after the match.

“Unfortunately, James had a problem during the game (against Liverpool),” added Ancelotti, who will also be without Richarlison who begins a three-match suspension for his red card against Liverpool.

“He had a mistimed tackle with Virgil van Dijk at the beginning of the game and I think he will not be available for the game against Southampton.”

The Toffees manager expects Coleman to miss “two or three weeks” but his absence will be offset by the return of Jonjoe Kenny from an ankle problem.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the Merseyside divide, Wijnaldum believes Fabinho’s performance as a makeshift centre-back is a sign Liverpool can manage without van Dijk.

The Brazil international was man of the match in the Reds’ 1-0 victory over Ajax in their Champions League opener in Amsterdam on Wednesday, only their third clean sheet in their last 14 matches.

Jurgen Klopp will hope Joel Matip has recovered from a minor problem to be fit to face Sheffield United tomorrow night, but Fabinho’s display suggests he will be a more-than-adequate fall-back option.

“Fabinho is a great centre-back. The games he has played there, you can see he is comfortable in that position and he has done well each time,” said former Newcastle United midfielder Wijnaldum.

“We haven’t conceded any goals when he has played at centre-back, so that’s a good sign. It is great he can play in different positions and he is doing a good thing for the team.”

Van Dijk, set for several months out with a knee ligament injury which requires surgery, sent a good luck message to the team ahead of the match but his Holland team-mate admits there is not too much football chat between the pair now.

The centre-back will have watched the game but he has not posted anything on social media about the performance and Wijnaldum said it was more important for his friend to focus on his recovery.

“Virgil sent a message, he wished us good luck in the group chat on WhatsApp,” added the Dutchman. “For me I don’t think it is the right time to speak with Virgil about football, because football at this time is not important.

“I think for him and for me when we speak together, the most important thing is his rehab and those things. So when I speak to him it is more about Virgil van Dijk, more about life than about football.

“It might change in a few months because he will be much further into his rehab, but it is not the right time to speak about football now.”