When Virgil van Dijk suffered a season-ending injury at Goodison Park, many were rightfully quick to point to the defensive issues Liverpool would have.
Yet, players stepped up on the defensive front; for the most part, Jurgen Klopp’s side remained resilient in their almost impenetrable ways- conceding just 11 goals in the Dutchman’s absence.
His absence was meant to put an end to Liverpool’s defensive superiority, but Fabinho stepped up. But, in doing so, the Brazilian’s influence has gone amiss in midfield; his world-class ability to sustain attacking play and recycle the ball has been a catalyst in Jurgen Klopp’s sides failure in front of goal.
Thiago has recently provided the ability to produce unpredictability and the recycling of the ball in midfield, but he lacks Fabinho’s physical presence; Fabinho’s fight; Fabinho’s knowhow when putting out fires whilst they are only beginning to show glimpses of becoming a dangerous flame.
On the defensive front, with a makeshift back two, Liverpool have been fine. Instead, it is offensively, where the enforced changing of the posts in the backline, where Liverpool have struggled- scoring zero goals in their last five Premier League games.
Absence of Van Dijk Creating Unexpected Attacking Issues
Pressing With Less Intensity
Without Van Dijk, Liverpool were always going to approach games with more safety. They were always going to press with less intensity; it was the natural solution, but a solution which has cost Liverpool so dearly.
But, there was no other way. The safety net of the Dutchman offers Liverpool the ability to press far more vigorously. The team, as a whole, could comfortably step up the pitch to press the opposition into collapse knowing Van Dijk was there to clean up the mess.
Without him, that safety net has become nothing more than an exposed and, ultimately, vulnerable backline. Liverpool can no longer afford to press with as much intensity because of their new-found susceptibility on the counter.
Again, though, defensively, this change in approach worked, but, offensively, it is becoming more and more of a problem. In the end, in a way, it’s a simple explanation.
Whilst the Reds can’t press as high, less clear cut chances will arrive, and the goals will eventually fail to flow as they have, indeed, done in recent times.
Place Fabinho in that midfield- allowing him to sustain attacks in the process- and perhaps you solve this problem. But Liverpool simply do not have the resources at present to apply this thought. Fabinho is needed at the back so much due to the injury issues that Klopp has had to create one problem whilst solving another.
Missing the Passing Range of Van Dijk
Again, to reiterate this point, Van Dijk’s absence has not cost Liverpool defensively, but, instead, created an unexpected inability to break down low blocks and create chances. The former Southampton man, as proven now more than ever, offers far more than defensive solidity.
Without him, Liverpool lack the ability to build from the back; they so dearly miss the perfectly executed diagonal switches of play to break down a low block. The likes of Fabinho and Matip do not offer this ability.
Matip offers the ability to step out with the ball from the back- crucially taking players out of the game in the process- but lacks that key, long driving pass.
Fabinho is more of ball-recycling player in midfield. The Brazilian sustains attacks in midfield to quicken things up. Virgil van Dijk can do all of the above.
When taking a look at the Dutchman’s passes into the final third last season in comparison to his defensive counterparts this campaign, the numbers couldn’t be more contrasting. Fabinho and Matip attempt far less passes, whilst remaining relatively unsuccessful when they do.
Meanwhile, last season, an accurate forward pass to release Liverpool’s biggest threat going forward in the fullbacks, was almost a given with every game from Van Dijk.
And this is what the Reds are lacking. Van Dijk’s presence strengthens them- both defensively and offensively. If Liverpool continue to suffer a tactical groundhog day of predictability without Van Dijk, the goals will continue to be of short supply, and, ultimately, the champions will continue to suffer.
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