Why using Van Dijk is a lazy excuse for Liverpool’s poor form.

Liverpool have been one of the two best teams in England over the last three or four years. There isn’t a football fan across the country that can deny that Manchester City and Liverpool have set the bar as high as it can go.

Two Champion League finals, one won and the other lost, two campaigns with a total of 196 points with a Premier League put Liverpool on a pedestal that very few teams could follow.

Liverpool under Jürgen Klopp have been a revelation. The German’s personality infused with the passion of Liverpool’s fanbase is a match made in heaven that has prompted spectacular results at Anfield.

This year Liverpool have been an absolute shadow of the team that swept all aside before it in previous years. Liverpool known as mentality monsters, a title coined by Klopp seems ridiculous at this moment.

The armchair Liverpool fans across the country have lazily pointed toward Virgil van Djik’s knee injury as the catalyst for Liverpool’s poor form. Some people have tried to compare the Dutchman’s long-term damage to Manchester City’s Aymeric Laporte’s knee injury in the previous campaign where City lost the league title to Liverpool.

Using Van Dijk as an excuse was a valid excuse for several weeks, but for me, the reason doesn’t go far enough to identify the problem. It only tells a part of the problem.

Liverpool’s record of 109 wins, 78 draws, and 83 losses was the second-longest streak in top-flight history, a record that Watford ended on the 29th February 2020.

Since this loss, there has been a chink in the armour that teams have successfully exploited Liverpool’s vulnerability. A 68 home unbeaten run came to an end at the hands of brave Burnley, Burnley’s first win at Anfield in 46 years. Anfield has always been a historically difficult place for any team to get a result.

Several clubs like Burnley have also picked up results at Anfield this season. Brighton won at Anfield for the first time in 38 years, Man City’s hoodoo at Anfield came to an end after 17 years, and arch-rivals Everton got their long-awaited Anfield victory after 21 years.

People will point to several factors for Liverpool’s poor form this season. They will cite the VVD loss, Covid, injuries etc. The side still have had about 10 Champions league winners to call upon this season in Mo Salah, Sadio Mane, Andy Robertson, Trent-Alexander-Arnold, Georginio Wijnaldum, Roberto Firmino, Thiago Alcantara, Jordan Henderson and Alisson Becker.

Here I will give my opinions on what I think has gone wrong at Anfield this season. 

FSG

One of the biggest problems at Liverpool have come from poor planning from FSG.

The lack of squad depth at the club is a damning indictment on the owners at Liverpool. A team that won the Champions League saw them rake in a whopping £100million. During the 2019 summer transfer window, after conquering Europe, Liverpool signed two kids, Harvey Elliott from Fulham and young centre-back Sepp van den Berg.

The club have forked out roughly £85m in transfer fees across four windows, but have only bought two players for their starting XI, Thiago Alcantara and Diogo Jota – around £5m for Thiago and £4.5m for Jota.

They knew Joe Gomez, Naby Keita and Joel Matip were made of glass, so why did they not plan for those areas in the summer.

Manchester City are a different kettle of fish, but if you look at Manchester United’s depth, the owners, despite receiving flak, have adequately increased the squad’s capacity.

There was always a risk that FSG’s frugal spending would come back to bite them, and it has. Spurs under Mauricio Pochettino went through the same thing, and it only ended in tragedy.

The club’s sell to buy formula has been successful thus far, but a club that are Premier League Champions should have never left itself so short with inadequate squad depth. It has caught up with them.

FSG’s flakey transfer policy isn’t due to Van Djiik’s absence, as so-called experts claim.

Klopp Stubbornness

Liverpool have had untold success with the 4-3-3. The fullbacks would push high, and the front three would press from the front and squeeze teams like nobody’s business. Since losing to Burnley, Liverpool have continued to play a 4-3-3 with no let-up or attempt to change the system. They have become predictable and easy to play against; a low block with quick transitions has been Liverpool’s Achilles heel. 

Liverpool’s two best performances have come with a 4-2-3-1 against West ham and Palace. Both were convincing wins. Why change the system back.

The saying “if nothing changes, then nothing changes is an apt phrase for Klopp’s side as of this moment. Liverpool have now lost four consecutive home league games for the first time since December 1923, while they are also the first reigning top-flight champion to lose four successive home league games since Everton in the 1928-29 season.

If you encounter a problem, you try to find a solution to the problem. There doesn’t seem to be a willingness to change. Losing to one team at home is acceptable, but when it becomes three or four, that’s when you have a problem, and it goes past being a blip.

The club should have enough to put away Burnley, Brighton, West Brom and the likes. A win percentage of 48.65% is a poor return this season for a manager touted as the best in the world. 

Again van Dijk isn’t the only problem.

Liverpool’s front three.

Mane, Salah and Firmino have been the best front three in the league for several years now. Salah especially has hit numbers to elevate him to god status in Merseyside.

A forward line that was so revered has suddenly become flat. Everton has scored more goals (2) at Anfield than Liverpool (1) in 2021, a shocking from a free-flowing team not so long ago.

Liverpool’s percentage of shots on target by teams this season is 36% Mohamed Salah, Roberto Firmino & Sadio Mane at Anfield in the Premier League in 2021 (excl. penalties) 35 shots. Seven shots on target with 0 goals.

Salah’s head is in Spain if I’m honest. He has become inconsistent along with Mane. The front three are just another one of the problems that Liverpool have to fix.

It may need to be broken up this summer, and with FSG’s sell to buy policy, it may become a reality.

Lastly, how is Van Dijk’s injury a reason for the front three’s poor run of form in front of goal? 

Liverpool need to build confidence again. They are a shadow of themselves with little belief anymore. Van Dijk’s return may fix the problem, ever so slightly, but there are deeper problems like the ones outlined above that need a lot more than one gigantic centre half coming back into the side. 

Liverpool during GW5 before the (VVD injury) had conceded as many as Manchester United and Fulham 11 in 3 games including the 7-2 loss to Villa, the 4-3 win at Leeds etc. This was with VVD and Joe Gomez in the side. 

Liverpool lie 3rd in the home form table and 10th in the away version. They have been patchy since the title win. They have never put the foot back on the accelerator, which can be due to several factors. Everything has caught up. It was impossible to go at that pace without a breaking point. Van Dijk’s injury only tells part of the story.

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