The defensive problems at Liverpool threatened to put a serious spanner in the works at Anfield last season. Virgil van Dijk was one of several Liverpool defenders to suffer from a long term injury but the Dutchman is without doubt the one player Jurgen Klopp cannot do without in defence.
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It was clear to see how much Liverpool missed Van Dijk following his injury at the beginning of last season. It is no exaggeration to say Liverpool’s Premier League title defence fell apart mostly due to the absence of Van Dijk and central defensive partner Joe Gomez. The absence of Van Dijk had a massive impact on the team both in terms of defence and attack last season.
Van Dijk is a fantastic defender, his reading of the game is superb and he is rarely beaten in a one-on-one with an attacker. Even if the Dutch international mistimes an interception or is caught out of position, he has the speed to recover and make life difficult for the attacker. However, the way in which Van Dijk organises the Liverpool defence, speaking to his teammates and getting the best out of them, is worth a lot to the team. In addition, Van Dijk is a big threat in the opposition penalty box from corners and free kicks and is sure to chip in with a few goals this season.
Van Dijk made his return to action nine months after suffering the anterior cruciate ligament injury in his right knee. He came off the bench in the 70th minute during Liverpool’s pre-season friendly defeat against Hertha Berlin and said, “285 days ago I started on a journey back towards playing. It’s hard to express how I am feeling, but it’s important to me that I say I feel blessed to have had the support of so many incredible people.”
When Van Dijk joined Liverpool, they had never won the Premier League in its current form. You had to go back to the 1989/90 and the old First Division to find the last time The Reds had won the English title. Having joined Liverpool in the winter transfer window of 2017/18, he helped the club to second place in the Premier League the following season, just 1 point behind the winners and to a comprehensive title win in 2019/20.
That underlines how important Van Dijk is to Liverpool and if he can stay fit, they have a great opportunity to mount a serious challenge for the title. It will be interesting to see how he copes with the demands once the Champions League and World Cup qualifying games start but if Van Dijk is anywhere near his best this season, Liverpool have to be considered title contenders.