When Liverpool sealed last season’s Premier League title, it was an amazing night for all fans and Liverpool players, knowing their hard work had eventually paid off.
Becoming Premier League champions for the first time in thirty years was a massive achievement for Jurgen Klopp, who once promised to land the big prize within four years.
While acclamation flew in for their talisman forwards, few doubted the quality and importance of their superb backline. While people tend to overlook these attributes of a defender and associate much of the team’s collective success with the record-breaking performance of the front three, Virgil van Dijk has stood as a silent leader for his team ever since he arrived at Anfield.
As good as Andy Robertson and Trent Alexander-Arnold were in patrolling their respective flanks and as much impact Jordan Henderson had safeguarding the backline, none matched the guile and physical strength of their highly-rated centre-back.
Coming to Merseyside from Southampton, van Dijk has established himself not only as a vital member of Liverpool’s core, but as an astute leader as well. Just by statistics alone, the man has shown his worth. In 2019-20, out of his 38 league appearances, the Reds earned 32 wins and suffered merely three defeats.
The defence kept 15 clean sheets in the process and conceded only 33 goals. He had the highest number of clearances (162) and recoveries (220) in the Premier League with a tackle success rate of 52 per cent.
While Liverpool were favourites to retain the title this season, things seem to have gone awry. A disappointing 7-2 defeat to Aston Villa had the media circling. To make matters more complicated, last week’s Merseyside derby against Everton resulted in a long-term injury to their defensive heavyweight.
As expected with a knee ligament injury, he will potentially be out for six to eight months or possibly even longer. To quantify that in the context of Jurgen Klopp’s side’s title challenge: he may not play again in 2020-21.
While Jurgen Klopp assured the Anfield faithful that his team has enough firepower to pull through the crisis, such expectations are belied by the significance of his star defender’s absence. A comparison of the team’s record with and without the Dutchman shows exactly why the manager’s optimism is rather unfounded.
Whenever van Dijk featured on the team sheet, the Reds had gone on to win 91 games out of 129 with only 19 defeats. More importantly, the goals conceded in this period is only 12, with a win rate of 70.5 per cent. In his absence, they won only six out of 14 games with a win rate of just 42.5 per cent. The team has conceded 22 goals in his absence, across competitions in Europe, with the goals conceded per game at 1.57.
These statistics alone tell us the value of the Netherlands skipper to his side, let alone his impressive ability as a leader of the defensive pack. Liverpool are surely going to miss him, and they will probably miss the title as well.