By Yuri Mutei
The question on the lips of just about every Premier League football fan is, ‘what’s going wrong at Liverpool this season?’
From some die hard perspectives it’s just a simple case of form, injuries whilst not forgetting the packed schedule from the Covid 19 pandemic that has caused a lot of fatigue.
The other factor we can have a look at is the injury layoff of Liverpool’s key man Virgil Van Dijk. Football is complex and when a team loses a player like him the effect isn’t just localized to the center of defence, it has a ripple effect on the rest of the team.
It’s been a season-long headache for Liverpool’s manager Jurgen Klopp as last year’s champions have slumped to sixth place in the Premier League table, 18 points behind leaders Manchester City.
Van Dijk’s positioning, aerial ability, and recovery speed, are what make him world class. He helps his team defend by maintaining a high defensive line allowing them to defend forwards. Without him, it’s been quite the opposite. His presence helps with providing cover for the fullbacks when they are higher up the pitch, either through interceptions or calmly playing the ball back into midfield.
With the fullbacks higher up the pitch Van Dijk can organize the midfield and keep the team structured. Wingers are tucked in waiting for any diagonal long balls depending on the situation. This was the case when they beat arsenal 3-1.
After his injury, the team has no structure and midfield has gaps have opened up. Liverpool’s transition has gone from wide or over the top, to unnecessary passes in the middle of the park. The midfield has to try and do what Van Dijk does but in doing so there are no angled runs with Salah and Mane having less space to run into.
With the high defensive line, it means Liverpool can press closer to the opposition goal. Without this, their transition to attack was mainly done by Van Dijk . Usually it’s been high balls to Mane or Salah.
Van Dijk’s passing per 90 minutes was 68 with a pass completion rate of 90 percent. This trait has not directly led to goals but it has helped the team transition higher up the pitch. With Van Dijk out most balls end up with Firmino who isn’t one of the world’s best finishers, that’s not his strength.
Firmino’s ability to create chances and openings has been inhibited by Van Dijks’ absence and that’s where his strength is. That’s why scoring goals in boatloads like last season has been a problem for Liverpool in 2020/21.
With all this, football truly is a team sport and when one cog in the intricate football team goes out. Sometimes it takes a while. Other times you can find a new cog.
All I can say as a football fan, is that I hope Virgil van Dijk gets well soon and we get to see him shine on the pitch once more.