Liverpool centre-half Virgil van Dijk hasn’t even come close to his imperious Premier League record so far this season. And here’s why.
Van Dijk’s season so far, in chronological order of matches, can be summarized as follows: conceded a penalty against Fulham; failed to shut down striker Wilfried Zaha against Crystal Palace; was blocked by James Milner for being strangely bad against Manchester United; did quite well against Bournemouth; did quite well against Newcastle; took out his vendetta Jordan Pickford on Amadou Onana’s shin.
It wasn’t great at all from the Dutchman but Danny Murphy believes he’s cracked the code:
“He is not up to his level. Before his injury, he looked like arguably one of the best centre-halves we’ve ever seen. The injury, which is huge and from which he is coming back, even if he hasn’t had any problems from missed games, I think that psychologically he is not in the same place.
“What I mean by that is not wanting to be so physically engaged with the players and the tackles, even if he had one at the weekend. He plays a little in himself and protects himself a little without knowing it. I’ve played with players who have had ACL injuries before and when they come back you can see them doing it.
Van Dijk returned in August 2021. He made 51 appearances in the 2021/22 season, including three finals, playing at least 390 minutes more than his closest Liverpool team-mate. He was also named in the PFA Team of the Year and the Champions League Team of the Season.
Not sure it’s the injury, Danny. In fact, these five reasons are much more plausible.
This explanation dates back to July 2016, when Jurgen Klopp scoffed at the idea of spending a nine-figure fee on a footballer. “If you bring in a player for £100m or whatever, and he gets injured, then it all goes down the chimney,” he explained. “The day when it’s football, I no longer have a job, because the game consists of playing together. If I spend money, it’s because I’m trying to build a team, a real team.
Paul Pogba became the world-record signing for Manchester United less than two weeks later in a purely serendipitous decision that did not at all immediately portray him as the symbol of the opposite of the Liverpool manager’s ideal.
Jose Mourinho reveled in biting the bear when Klopp made Virgil van Dijk the most expensive defender in history at £75m some 18 months later. Liverpool will attest that it all did indeed go down the drain with the centre-half’s first serious injury of 2020. But it doesn’t take a big leap to assume Pogba manufactured Van Dijk’s aura as a parting gift leaving the club. Premier League. No way.
Van Dijk is 6 feet 4 inches tall. Considering that it has been proven beyond a reasonable doubt that 5ft 9in is the optimal height for a Premier League centre-half, it’s worth wondering if the Liverpool defender just isn’t too big for Our Game. He can win heads and intimidate attackers, but what about those smaller, sharper, more agile attackers? He can’t even see them. You can get by without looking down in the Eredivisie and Scotland but not here.
Van Dijk is an obvious target for opposing clubs who are focused on not playing high balls, just running around him and asking what the weather is like up there. Move him up front, bring Thiago or Harvey Elliott into the center half and count the trophies as you go.
Liverpool’s first season without Divock Origi on the books since 2014 was always going to be a challenge. Arsenal and Manchester United will check the transition difficulties of a club-defining autocrat like Arsene Wenger or Sir Alex Ferguson when they leave. Origi wielded similar influence and power behind the scenes at Anfield, but that’s all gone.
It was particularly difficult for Van Dijk, whose remarkably shrewd assist for Origi against Everton in December 2018 is long remembered. The centre-half was able to stay sharp and at his peak for years as he faced the Belgian in training every week. All Van Dijk has to do now to get through a session is give Darwin Nunez a few sneaky shoves and wait for him to lose his shit. No wonder the guy got complacent.
Apart from the brilliant Nations League, Virgil van Dijk has never played in a major international tournament for the Netherlands. A combination of their oddly fluctuating qualifying record and lack of reliable knees actually limited the center half to just 47 caps. The English equivalent in this regard is either Theo Walcott or Trevor Brooking, who have both played at the Euros and at least been to a World Cup in an official professional capacity.
With his opportunity finally presenting itself this winter, Van Dijk is content to simply go through the stages and stay fresh for the Dutch to be knocked out in the group stage or reach the semi-finals. There is no intermediate solution.
Twitter is largely responsible for creating some truly iconic football nicknames, such as Fraudiola, Penaldo and LiVARpool. But ‘Van Disney’ is an objectively atrocious nickname and it’s no wonder it started to affect Van Dijk’s performance.
The article Five better reasons for Van Dijk’s poor form at Liverpool than Murphy’s bizarre explanation appeared first on Football365.com.