That’s because Van Dijk’s range of long passing has a huge impact on Liverpool’s play: he starts attacks, it helps beat the opposition press and also moves them upfield to allow his team-mates to apply their own press.
Liverpool have scored just once in their last three Premier League games. JAMES SHARPE analyses how Van Dijk’s play influences Liverpool’s attack as well as defence.
Losing Virgil van Dijk has been a big blow to Liverpool this season, as they sit in third place
No centre-back has averaged more passes into the final third than Van Dijk over the past year.
‘I was speaking to Eddie Howe about Liverpool’s switches of play,’ says Owen. ‘When he was at Bournemouth that was the crippling factor. People underestimate how they start play from the back.’
The example below is from the first minute of Liverpool’s game against Everton. Van Dijk drops back then picks out Trent Alexander-Arnold on the other side of the pitch who attempts to curl an early ball into Roberto Firmino. Liverpool are into the box in two passes.
Not only have they missed him at the back, he’s a big part of Liverpool’s attacking play too
Van Dijk’s ability on the ball as well as his composure helps Liverpool beat the opposition press. In the opening stages of the game against Arsenal, Van Dijk receives the ball in his own box under pressure with opponents looking to cut off his options.
Van Dijk instead fires a long ball to Mo Salah out wide. Arsenal’s midfield are bypassed and Liverpool quickly have runners coming from deep. Salah tries to play the ball into them but it’s cleared. Again, though, Liverpool are from one penalty area to the other in two moves with Van Dijk at the heart of it.
Van Dijk also helps Liverpool put pressure on their opponents quickly higher up the field. Even if his long pass fails to find its target, Liverpool’s forwards and midfielders are there to swarm. Van Dijk launches it long against Aston Villa. As Tyrone Mings collects the ball, he has Salah on him while Firmino, Diogo Jota and Gini Wijnaldum press the players and space in front of him.
These are a big couple of weeks for Liverpool and Manchester United with some massive games – and maybe an opportunity for Pep Guardiola to really cut the gap in the title race.