Virgil van Dijk | The solution to Liverpool’s defensive errors?

van dijk | FI

Virgil van Dijk became the most expensive defender in footballing history as he finally made the switch to Merseyside, a long drawn out process that has seen Liverpool announce the signing of Virgil van Dijk on 27th December, 2017 for an astounding £75 million. Van Dijk became the costliest defender ever beating the previous record that was held by Kyle Walker in a £54 million move to Manchester City.

Delighted and honored to have agreed to become a Liverpool FC player,” Van Dijk wrote on Instagram alongside a picture holding a jersey of the club he will join on January 1, 2018.

The team that started as outside favorites to win the league is now trying to mend the broken pieces to ensure at least a Champions League qualification spot for the next season. The Reds have 47 points from the first 23 fixtures, and are currently 18 points behind the league leaders, Manchester City.

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Summer transfer woes

Liverpool’s management knew that the club needed an active summer, after the fluctuating run they had had in the previous season. The talking point in the Merseyside was Liverpool needed to strengthen their defense and a lanky no-nonsense center back, and a central midfielder were ascertained to be the priorities. Klopp had his eyes on the Southampton and Netherlands center-half Virgil van Dijk. Unfortunately, owing to the already strained relationship between both the clubs and adding to it an alleged illegal tapping of the player from Liverpool in late June, Southampton refused to continue any negotiations.

Klopp refused to go for alternatives as the Liverpool hierarchy tried to mend the relationship with Southampton and were finally able to land their main man in the winter.

Though in the attacking department, Liverpool did attain success, with the likes of Mohamed Salah, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Dominic Solanke coming in and Naby Keita, who would join in 2018.

The transfer history between Liverpool and Southampton dates back to 2005, when Rafael Benitez, fresh from the emphatic Miracle of Istanbul”, wanted to strengthen the team while entering the new season. He bought the tall 6’7” English forward Peter Crouch. Crouch immediately became a sensation and a fan favorite at Anfield.

Much of the transactions, though occurred only in the past few years, and have only been one way with the likes of Adam Lallana, Nathaniel Clyne, Dejan Lovren, Rickie Lambert and Sadio Mane all opting for the Merseyside outfit, that too when they were at their peak, leaving the Southampton faithful fuming. So when Liverpool came for another of their stalwarts, eyeballs were rolled and fists were banged.


The ‘Fab’ Four

The famous quartet of Coutinho, Firmino, Mane and the new signing Salah that Klopp has deployed this season has defined a new dimension of attacking football.

With the slick passing of Coutinho, dangerous show of pace from Salah and Mane and the sheer intelligence with which Firmino opens the play for counter attack, Liverpool are one of the best teams in the world going forward.

Now after Philippe Coutinho’s transfer to Barcelona, the front three alone remain, but that was more than sufficient for Liverpool when they saw off table toppers Man City and put four goals past them. While his creativity and output is bound to be missed over the course of the season, one can’t help but feel that the underlying problems for Liverpool lie elsewhere.

The only thing, as it has already been stressed above, that is clouding their progress is their consistently erring back line.

Rise of Virgil van Dijk

The rise of the 26 year old Dutchman, is somewhat of a fairy tale that can adhere to the likes of youngsters in Netherlands to follow the steps taken by him. In a country, that has an abysmal record for supplying many center halves turned into forwards and midfielders, it must have been a strenuous journey for the towering 26 year old.

Virgil van Dijk started his journey back in Willem II which is based from the city of Tilburg, Netherlands in the year of 2009. Born to a Dutch father and a Surinamese mother, the 26 year old had got both the elegance and the strength from his parents.

Van Dijk then moved to Groningen in 2010 in a free transfer and made his professional debut for the club in a 4-2 win against ADO Den Haag. Furthermore moving on to the next season, Van Dijk became a regular in the first team making 23 appearances and also scoring his first professional goal in a 6-0 thrashing of the Dutch giants, Feyenoord.

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The first break in his career came when the Glasgow club Celtic came for him in 2013 and acquired his signature for a meager amount of £2.6 million.

Van Dijk won the Scottish league twice with the Celtics before moving on to the tougher and more demanding English Premier League when Southampton bought him for around £14 million in 2015.

Since the Dutchman’s arrival to Premier League, he has set a bench mark by being one of the best center backs in the league. He even won the Player of the Year at Southampton in his debut season. He has played 67 matches for the Saints and has garnered an astonishing array of defensive records, most important in Liverpool’s purview being that he has not committed a single error that has led to a direct goal.


Liverpool’s defensive problems

Many experts have shrugged off the fact whether Liverpool can really challenge for the title, despite having one of the most blistering attacks among the top 5 leagues in Europe, with the reason being the immaturity and panic that Liverpool show in their own half of the pitch.

Liverpool’s defense has come under scrutiny a lot of times in the recent past, as the Reds have blown off a well attained lead many a times, both in the Premier League and the Champions League.

The back line of Liverpool has been criticized a lot for its inability to soak the pressure, and the way it panics with the ball. Seven of Liverpool’s draws this season have come when they had initially taken the lead in the match. Liverpool’s inability to shut shop and see off the game has been virtually no-existent at times this season, the reason for most of their dropped points.

Some of the examples are the Champions League ties with Sevilla, both at home and away, where Liverpool blew of a 2-0 and 3-0 lead respectively and the games ending in a draw.


The startling fact here is that majority of these goals conceded by Liverpool are a result of individual errors by the likes of Gomez, Lovren, Mignolet all being party to more than a single error leading to a goal over the course of the season. Though, professionally these players are of a top notch level, the thing that is hurting the Liverpool’s progress is the inconsistency shown by these players. The fact that the goalkeeper with highest number of individual errors leading to a goal in Premier League, is Simon Mignolet, is not at all surprising if one has seen Liverpool play. There is an absence of a leader in that back line of Liverpool, that presence which would intimidate the opponent and soak up the pressure when faced with it.

Joel Matip was expected to be a marquee signing back in 2016 but has been unable to keep the standards required for a team that is challenging for the title. Lovren, on the other hand has been down with inconsistency and a handful of individual errors, which has plagued the Liverpool’s defense to an extent that it has become something of a horror show.

Klopp knew that his team’s attack needs an equal support from his defense and it was lacking, thus affecting the team’s attacking too sometimes.

In the matches where Liverpool’s attack is bleak, the defense is expected to step up and put on a staunch performance.


What VVD brings to the team?

Here is where Virgil Van Dijk comes into the picture. Scouted for more than a year by Klopp, the hefty Dutchman is a pure captain product, and exactly what Liverpool need.

A fee of £75 million means Van Dijk is certainly going to be a starter in that crumbly Liverpool back line, siding along with either of Matip, Lovren or Klavan. Gomez is still quite young, and till Clyne returns, there are no doubts that he will be deployed only in that right flank sharing duties with Trent Alexander-Arnold.

Since the likes of Gerrard and Carragher retired, there has always been a lack of leader in this Liverpool first team, who can shout at other players and keep them alert, and also help in soaking up the pressure.

Van Dijk is a proven captain material from his days back at Celtic and Southampton. He himself has said many times that he wants the best out of his teammates and to make that happen he keeps shouting and cheering,pushing them up.

Other than his calming presence, his aerial prowess and his on the ball are something that Liverpool could certainly do with.

Not to talk about the aerial prowess that he brings along with his tall frame, Van Dijk is a calming presence in any team. His on the ball technique, at a position where someone else’s holding a ball itself triggers fear into the Liverpool fans is why £75 million has been paid for. It was visible in his debut against Everton, where he had the most aerial duels won. If the facts are ignored for once, every person who saw that match will account for the fact how the big Dutch center half, controlled that back line with his continuous shouts and calls.

Other than the defensive duties, Van Dijk also showed that he can win the balls from offensive set-pieces (in which Liverpool have a poor record down the years), whence he had two shots on target, and one going into the back of the net as the winner.

Is he the final piece to the puzzle?

No, certainly not. Van Dijk is just a single piece of the jigsaw puzzle, but most certainly a significant one. Liverpool still need to improve their midfield and also their number one man if they are serious and ambitious to win a silverware.

Jurgen Klopp has given them a hope, a firing desire and when the remaining clogged pores are cleared, a team never ever seen by the world before is going to be introduced and will bring those golden days back to the Kop.

In conclusion, if Van Dijk brings what he is expected to and helps significantly in Liverpool’s bid to challenge for silverware or go even further and win it, then the price tag is well and truly justified.