Van Dijk, Liverpool’s control tower falters

Like a Liverpool team that stammers its football, Virgil van Dijk is no longer the defensive monster that frightened opposing attackers. But against Ajax on Tuesday (9:00 p.m.) in the Champions League, he hopes to find some bite.

This summer, van Dijk lost his tag as ‘the most expensive transfer in Reds history’.

Snatched from Southampton for 87 million euros in January 2018, he was overtaken by Darwin Nunez and the 100 M EUR, including bonus, promised to Benfica for the Uruguayan striker.

Unfortunately, he also seems to have lost everything that justified this amount, during the worst start to the season of the Klopp era.

The 2018-2019 financial year where he had not lost a single duel on the ground, and the following, where he had played in full the 38 days which had given the Reds their first title in 30 years, had established him as the best world central defender.

His serious injury at the very start of 2020-2021 – a rupture of the anterior cruciate ligaments after a violent charge from Jordan Pickford during a derby at Everton – confirmed Liverpool’s dependence on his colossus (1.93 m).

And his return to great shape last year allowed the Reds to come very close to a fabulous quadruple championship, national cups and Champions League, stumbling on the C1 final and finishing in 2nd place in the Premier League.

– Less anticipation, too much reaction –

But the most beautiful exploits are quickly forgotten when things turn sour and van Dijk found himself in the crosshairs of the consultants after the correction received in Naples for the first day of C1 (4-1), the heaviest defeat European since a 5-1 in 1966 by … Ajax.

In that match, van Dijk conceded his second penalty in seven appearances this season, despite having conceded none in the previous 150 matches.

“He looks really, really screwed up. When you see him play, all he does is react (whereas usually) this guy reads the game, he’s always two steps ahead of the rest “, pleaded the former Crystal Palace player Damien Delaney in the video podcast “Off The Ball”.

After 63 matches played last year, the maximum that Liverpool could theoretically play, this hypothesis undoubtedly has some merits, especially since it would also explain the hyper-sluggish performances of other executives such as Mohamed Salah, Trent Alexander Arnold or Fabinho.

It is certain that for Liverpool, who play with a very high defensive line to press their opponent as much as possible, the slightest drop in speed is glaring.

“We want to constantly attack the opponent. When we have the ball, when we lose it and when the opponent has it,” Klopp summed up last year.

– A pressing that has become intermittent –

However, the statistics confirm a drop in intensity already visible to the naked eye at Liverpool and a pressing that has become intermittent. In the opposing 35 meters, the Reds pressed 45 times per game on average last year, against 33 times this year.

“If you play with a high line and you don’t put any pressure on the guy who has the ball, yes, it’s risky. But usually it’s not,” Klopp pointed out, qualifying the match in Naples of “the least compact performance I have seen in a long, long time”.

Of course, all this is not due to van Dijk alone, who also had to play alongside Joel Matip, Nathaniel Phillips and Joe Gomez – Ibrahima Konaté being injured. Not ideal for automations.

At 31 and given his position and his status in the team, van Dijk knows that it is also up to him to restore order in the red house and he has already delivered a clear and unifying message: “we must remain united and not pointing fingers at (anyone). Everyone knows everyone can do better.” Him first.

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