Liverpool have faced a challenging start to their campaign this season, having failed to find any solid consistency thus far.
The Reds are stuck in ninth in the Premier League and have had to endure damaging defeats against the likes of relegation fodder Nottingham Forest, whilst another shock defeat came just recently against Leeds.
Jurgen Klopp’s men travel to London this weekend to face Antonio Conte’s Tottenham, in what will likely be a feisty occasion. Spurs have made a good start in the Premier League and sit in third, and have often been happy to soak up pressure and strike on the counter.
One man who will be keen to make a mark against Liverpool will be England striker Harry Kane – the lethal hitman has been in typically fine form this season having scored 11 goals and registered three assists across all competitions.
Conversely, Liverpool’s defence has been very poor, making a plethora of mistakes and looking miles off the once cohesive force that they were.
Largely, criticism has been labelled at English defenders Trent Alexander-Arnold and Joe Gomez. Both have made glaring errors – with Alexander-Arnold chastised for overcommitting forward and seemingly forgetting to defend, while Gomez has made a string of unnecessary mistakes leading to opposition goals.
One man who has also been mentioned is Liverpool’s Dutch force Virgil van Dijk.
The 31-year-old has not quite reached the staggering heights that he did in previous seasons and has looked uncharacteristically unassured – but not to the same extent as his fellow defenders.
Stand by Van Dijk
The defensive leader has been integral in the club’s Premier League and Champions League victories, providing moments of assurance and clarity in tough moments.
For this reason, it’s imperative that Klopp sticks by his 6 foot 4 centre-back, and helps guide him back into a period of top form if Liverpool want to achieve any kind of success this season.
The Dutchman has made 19 appearances for the Reds this season and even captained the side in the wake of Jordan Henderson’s absence at times, so it’s strange that he seems to have failed to inspire the same kind of confidence and solidarity that he once did.
However, looking closely, this is largely down to the side underperforming as a whole, although the former Southampton man has been humble enough to be critical of his own performances after an international game back in September: (via Liverpool Echo)
“I know I could have done better in the beginning of the season. I’m not naïve about that. I know very well when I make mistakes,
“I also know that I am one of the important players at the club and of course also here at the national team. I feel that responsibility. Mentally it’s a challenge. You feel a lot of pressure on your head. A lot of people forget that too, it’s not easy to do that.
These comments showcase the reflective and honest nature of the £220k-per-week battleaxe and are a testament to his strong character and willingness to take responsibility.
And it’s this elite mindset that has meant Liverpool have still managed to pull out some impressive performances and subsequent results, one of these being the 1-0 victory against red-hot Manchester City.
The Anfield outfit came up against Pep Guardiola’s star-studded side in October, and doubts were looming about whether they could deal with Erling Haaland – the devastating striker has scored 17 Premier League goals already this season.
However, one man who backed Liverpool’s defensive titan to eliminate any lingering form issues was legendary defender Rio Ferdinand.
Speaking on BT Sport (via Mail Online) ahead of the game, the ex-United man said:
“This is what Liverpool should be thinking. This is Virgil van Dijk’s time to go and shut a few people up, people are questioning him now, he was almost the invincible at one point, the best player on planet earth right now, the most in-form right now, Haaland is coming to town, “I’m going to put it on him, shut it up.”
It would transpire that Ferdinand was right after Klopp’s side laboured their way to an impressive 1-0 victory against the Premier League Champions.
This is further evidence that his presence is still an inspiring and necessary one at Anfield, with the ability to stop even the biggest threats.
Statistically, the experienced defender is also still a monster force, ranking in the top 3% for aerials won, and additionally the top 1% for touches in the opposition area compared to his positional peers, as per FBref.
Essentially this illustrates the gargantuan presence offered by the centre-back – who was once hailed as “outrageous” by former Premier League defender Jonathan Woodgate.
A pivotal tool in both boxes with the ability to clear the lines and score goals from his aerial threat. This factor will be key in stopping a clinical, physical attacking figure like Kane on Sunday.
If anyone’s able to give the England skipper nightmares on the eve of the World Cup, then it could be the Dutch titan himself, who is evidently turning a corner with his – and the Reds’ – form.
With the returning Ibrahima Konate another boost, it’s imperative that Liverpool stand by their integral Dutchman, as a strong centre-back pairing will be vital to stop Conte’s men, and may lead the Reds to a crucial three points in their season.