Sport Jurgen Klopps confirmed first transfer of the summer will transform Liverpool – Liverpool Echo
May 18, 2021
Life without Virgil van Dijk hasn’t been pleasant for the champions of England, who have fallen from 99 points last season to a total that will fail to breach the 70-mark this time around.
Liverpool have suffered from other issues along the way – including long-term injuries to Joel Matip and Joe Gomez – but the absence of the Dutchman has been the trickiest to overcome, with the centre-back integral to virtually everything associated with how the Reds perform.
He was deemed as transformational upon his arrival and a world-record fee for a defender was sanctioned for his services; not only would he provide a solution to
Jurgen Klopp‘s leaky defence, but he would become a pillar for the team to build around on the attacking side of the game.
Two seasons ago, the imperious defender was presented with a situation on the pitch whereby Son Heung-min and Moussa Sissoko outnumbered him as they advanced towards Liverpool’s goal.
The way in which Van Dijk controlled the problem – by refusing to commit and blocking a pass from Sissoko to Son, which forced the latter to shoot with his weaker foot – epitomised what he offers in a tactical capacity.
The Dutch international is so well-rounded that he’s able to cope with such difficult scenarios, and those qualities offer real possibilities in attack.
Virgil van Dijk allows Liverpool to attack in numbers because he’s well-rounded enough to manage difficult defensive situations without support
Klopp can commit countless players into the final third with the awareness that he owns the best safety net in the business; Van Dijk manages to dominate opponents when in isolation, with the Reds boss stating in the past that his team ‘must attack with at least six players’.
As a consequence of his lack of weaknesses, the high-risk nature of how Liverpool defend places the spotlight on his complete skill set rather than his flaws, which can’t be said about so many of his peers across Europe.
Van Dijk’s aerial ability is one of his biggest strengths, with the 29 year-old winning 81% of his duels last season which placed him top of Europe’s top five leagues once compared with the 1,000+ players who amassed over 1,500 minutes on the field.
Pep Ljinders – Klopp’s no.2 – has elaborated on how important aerial prowess can be at Anfield, stating: “As a pressing team you have to accept a lot of long balls and second balls, so it’s important you have centre-backs who are good in the air so they can win the first challenge.”
The first challenge referenced by the 38-year-old coach permits Liverpool to confine their opponents to one half of the pitch before pushing attacks in waves, and Van Dijk’s expertise in the air also comes into play when opportunities from set-pieces emerge.
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Liverpool have conceded as many goals from corners, set-pieces and direct free-kicks this season (10) than they have scored themselves (10) which is a notable change compared to what happened last season; the Reds scored 17 goals from those situations last year, while shipping just six on the defensive side.
Van Dijk has bagged 10 headed goals in the Premier League from dead-ball situations since 2018, and his passes offer an avenue into the final third while simultaneously avoiding the pressure of opponents.
After facing Liverpool earlier in the year, Arsenal boss Mikel Arteta stated: “They have different weapons. We tried to put them under pressure but when you do the high press perfect, they have Van Dijk and he plays a 60-yard pass into
Mohamed Salah‘s chest and they are out. That’s quality.”
Whether he’s finding Salah with a diagonal ball from left to right, or Mane with a straight pass over the top, he’s capable of bringing the Reds into the areas that matter at the drop of a hat.
Virgil van Dijk exploits Sheffield United’s defensive line at Anfield with a ball over the top
All of the above should be added to Liverpool’s game once Van Dijk returns, which – if everything goes according to plan – should happen once the team starts to prepare for next season.
Indeed, Klopp has referenced the return of Van Dijk, as well as 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 made by Manchester City and Chelsea since Van Dijk’s setback, but the world-class defender should at least provide Liverpool with a platform to be Liverpool again.
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