Everyone remembers the Liverpool of the past decade. They were definitely the worst set-piece defence in the Premier League, they couldn’t hold onto a lead against most teams, and yes, they even let the elusive Premier League title ‘slip’. But those days seem to be long gone. So what has changed? While Liverpool were playing beautiful football and scoring goals left and right, it was their defence that allowed them to secure top four and advance to the UEFA Champions League final last season.
Virgil van Dijk is Liverpool’s Most Important Player
Liverpool knew their issues were at centre-back and Jurgen Klopp wanted to address it as soon as he could. After a transfer saga with Southampton, Virgin van Dijk made his way to Merseyside for a whopping £75 million during the January transfer window. Van Dijk was a hot commodity and was wanted by several clubs before choosing Liverpool. He broke the transfer record for a defender and many people wondered if he would ever live up to his price tag.
A ball-playing centre-back who was strong and could win aerial battles was paramount and that hole seems fixed. Among all the stats floating around, there is one that bears repeating.
🍾Man of the Match, @LFC’s Virgil Van Dijk 🍾
Completed 73/79 passes
8 clearances (most in match)
16 aerial duels (most in match)
Liverpool have kept 9 clean sheets in his 16 PL apps pic.twitter.com/6eVbd8o2rf
— Sky Sports Statto (@SkySportsStatto) August 20, 2018
Since Van Dijk’s arrival, Liverpool have kept nine clean sheets in his 16 appearances.
Liverpool now have their first world-class centre-half in over a decade and it showed its immediate impact. Clean sheets aside, the team just look more comfortable with van Dijk at the back, having him calm the game down. Liverpool are also the only side to not concede in the Premier League thus far. The game of football looks to be evolving towards centre-backs being able to dribble and play out of the back, and having van Dijk has allowed Liverpool to focus more on attacking. The team also seems to able to turn opposing set pieces into counter-attacking opportunities, with Sadio Mane and Mo Salah running relentlessly at teams. This only happens when set pieces can be dealt with swiftly, something that Virgil van Dijk excels in.
Defending Set Pieces
The statistics also hold up looking over the past three seasons. In the 2015/16 season, Liverpool gave up 15 goals via set pieces, with nine of them coming at home. During 2016/17, they conceded 12 goals from set pieces, with eight of them at home. Last season was certainly an improvement, with only eight goals given up and two of them came after van Dijk’s arrival. The biggest stat of them all was that out of the eight set-piece goals conceded last season, none of them came at Anfield.
Counter-attacking goals have also increased. After just two goals in the 2016-17 season, Liverpool were able to manage a league-leading nine goals last term.
Look for van Dijk to be the spine of Liverpool and propel them a title challenge.