Liverpool suffered from other issues along the way – including long-term injuries to Joel Matip and Joe Gomez – but the Dutchman’s absence was the trickiest to overcome, with the center-back being an integral part of virtually everything. which is associated with the performance of the Reds. .
He was viewed as transformational upon arrival and a world record defender fee was sanctioned for his services; Not only would he provide a solution to Jurgen Klopp’s elusive defense, but he would become a pillar for the team to build on the attacking side of the game.
Two seasons ago, the imperious defender faced a situation on the pitch in which Son Heung-min and Moussa Sissoko outnumbered him as they advanced towards Liverpool’s goal.
The way Van Dijk controlled the problem – refusing to engage and blocking a pass from Sissoko to Son, which forced the latter to shoot with his weaker foot – embodied what he offered in a tactical way. .
The Netherlands international is so complete that he is able to cope with such difficult scenarios, and these qualities offer real possibilities in attack.
Klopp can engage countless players in the final third knowing he has the best safety net in the business; Van Dijk manages to dominate his opponents when isolated, with the Reds boss saying in the past that his team “must attack with at least six players”.
Due to their lack of weaknesses, the high-risk nature of Liverpool’s defense emphasizes their skill set rather than their flaws, which cannot be said about so many of their peers at across Europe.
Van Dijk’s air ability is one of his greatest strengths, with the 29-year-old winning 81% of his duels last season, which has placed him ahead of the top five European leagues once compared to more than 1000 players who have accumulated more than 1500 minutes on the field.
Pep Ljinders – Klopp’s No.2 – explained how important aerial prowess can be at Anfield, saying: “As a pressing team you have to put up with a lot of long balls and second balls so it’s important that you have central defenders who are good in the air so that they can win the first challenge. “
The first challenge referenced by the 38-year-old coach allows Liverpool to confine their opponents to half the pitch before pushing attacks in waves, and Van Dijk’s expertise in the air also comes into play when punching opportunities set foots present themselves.
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Liverpool have conceded as many goals from corners, set pieces and direct free kicks this season (10) as they have scored themselves (10), which is a noticeable change from what has been happening. passed last season; the Reds scored 17 goals in those situations last year, while they only dispatched six on the defensive end.
Van Dijk has scored 10 headed goals in the Premier League since 2018, and his assists offer an avenue in the final third while simultaneously avoiding opponent pressure.
After facing Liverpool earlier in the year, Arsenal boss Mikel Arteta said: “They have different weapons. We tried to put them under pressure, but when you do the perfect haute press they have Van Dijk and he plays a 60 yard pass to Mohamed. Salah’s chest and they went out. It is quality. ”
Whether he finds Salah with a diagonal left-to-right ball, or Mane with a right overhead pass, he’s able to get the Reds into areas that matter in no time.
All of the above should be added to Liverpool’s game once Van Dijk returns, which – if all goes according to plan – should happen once the team start preparing for next season.
Indeed, Klopp has referred to the return of Van Dijk, along with Matip, Henderson and Gomez, as Liverpool’s ‘first transfers’ of the summer, and they can have a real impact.
It won’t be easy for Klopp to reclaim the throne from Pep Guardiola given the improvements Manchester City and Chelsea have made since Van Dijk’s setback, but the world-class defender should at least provide Liverpool with a platform to become Liverpool again. .