Liverpool: return of Virgil van Dijk and Co unblock missing offensive threat
The return of defensive trio Virgil van Dijk, Joe Gomez and Joel Matip was always guaranteed to give Liverpool a boost to the baseline, but surprisingly it could benefit the Reds more at the other end of the pitch.
The Reds’ 3-0 triumph over Norwich City in the Carabao Cup on Tuesday saw Takumi Minamino score from a Kostas Tsimikas corner kick just four minutes into the game.
It was Liverpool’s seventh free-kick goal in all competitions so far this season in as many games.
Takumi Minamino scored the opening goal in Liverpool’s 3-0 win over Norwich from a corner
The Reds shone in their Carabao Cup third round victory on Tuesday
All three goals in the Reds’ league win over Crystal Palace last Saturday came from set pieces, proving how essential they have become to their glory in recent seasons.
Set pieces were a central part of their campaign when they won their first Premier League title in 2019-2020.
Jurgen Klopp’s side scored 17 goals from set pieces, excluding penalties, en route to Premier League crown, but failed to match that tally as their title defense crashed and burned .
The Reds only managed 13 of 140 shots from set pieces last season, leaving them an average of 0.34 per game, down from 0.45 the previous campaign.
In fact, they suffered a slight drought as they scored eight in their first 23 games and then went on to go 20 games without one.
Mohamed Salah scored the second goal of a stopped game in the Reds’ win over Crystal Palace
Set pieces have been essential to Liverpool’s success in their Premier League crowning season
But Liverpool appear to be back as the title race heats up, and it should be close this season.
Champions Manchester City, Manchester United and Chelsea are sure to face tough challenges as they seek to keep the Premier League trophy out of the hands of Jordan Henderson and Co.
But Liverpool could already have found their advantage over the competition.
They have generated a total of 43 shots from set pieces in the Premier League this season, which is notably more than Manchester City, second at just 27, and Burnley, third at 24.
Meanwhile, Chelsea have generated just 16 attempts and United’s current total is 22.
Liverpool have also scored the most in deadball situations with five in the Premier League, putting them ahead of Chelsea on four and United, on the other hand, who have yet to find the net.
According to a report by Athleticism, Klopp focused on set pieces in the preseason.
The German brought in Dr Niklas Hausler and Patrick Hantschke of German company Neuro11 to help the team find an advantage in their set piece delivery, with Mohamed Salah and Trent Alexander-Arnold highlighted as players looking to maximize their threat.
But it was the return of their central defenders that was the key to unlocking one of their main sources of goals.
A wave of injuries has dashed Liverpool’s quest to retain their title last season.
The absence of Van Dijk, Matip and Gomez left a huge void in the Reds’ backline, but it may have been felt more deeply than the obvious defensive issues.
It is no coincidence that Liverpool’s fixed-goals bonus coincided with the return of their defensive talismans.
Virgil van Dijk returned to action against Hertha Berlin after 285 days of absence
Last season’s substitutes Nat Phillips and Rhys Williams and emergency defenders Henderson and Fabinho made an admirable attempt to keep the goals-conceded tally, but Klopp’s side felt most keenly on attack. the weight of his injuries.
Liverpool have lost the size and dominance of Van Dijk and Gomez in the box, which, even when not scoring, occupy enough the attention of opposing defenders to let their teammates shoot.
VIRGIL VAN DIJK IS ESSENTIAL FOR LIVERPOOL’S COUNTER-ATTACK
A comparison of Virgil van Dijk with the best center-backs in Europe’s five biggest leagues reveals he is one of the best attacking defenders on the continent. In 2019-20, Van Dijk was in:
Top 1% of central defenders for:
Long passes completed
Top three percent for:
Shoot the target
Progressive passing distance
Top 10 percent for:
Pass in the last third
Actions creating goals
In the absence of their defensive generals, Alexander-Arnold and Andy Robertson found themselves chained to more traditional full-back roles.
The duo are Liverpool’s main creative center, with 71 assists in the league.
But the assistant kings were forced to curb their attacking instincts to ensure the Reds’ back door was not left open and vulnerable without the stability of their defensive pillars.
With Liverpool’s defensive ranks fully replenished, the pair are free to bombard the wings again.
Van Dijk’s aerial ability, in particular, in set pieces isn’t the only offensive advantage he offers Klopp.
While the Dutchman brings stability to Liverpool’s back line, it is his ability to propel his side forward that can put Liverpool back in contention for the Premier League title this season.
“Quality and speed” were too often lacking last season in Van Dijk’s absence. Attacks became predictable, with heavy passing down midfield and Sadio Mane, in particular, found himself chained too often by deep defenses when the ball finally arrived.
It was the Dutchman’s extraordinary ability to score long-distance passes that helped Liverpool move towards the title in 2019-2020, helping to score 85 Premier League goals, down from just 68 last time around.
During the winning season, Van Dijk’s was in the top 1% center-backs across Europe for long passes completed, managing almost 16 per game with a completion rate of 79.2% and across the bullets.
It is telling that an assessment of Van Dijk’s play by analysts Ai Abacus reveals that he is best rated for passing completion, progressive passing, build-up of play and the range of passes he is only for tackling and defending in one-on-one situations. .
This snapshot serves to underline the importance of Van Dijk to Liverpool’s offensive threat.
Analysts Ai Abacus have assessed Van Dijk’s qualities and he is strong both defensively and offensively