This isn’t my lovely home.
That’s what most Liverpool supporters, together with this one, are considering this morning as Liverpool have come out of the blocks this season just like the starter’s gun is simply one other overbearing nuisance on a nasty hangover. Which in some methods, it’s. Liverpool haven’t received of their first three outings, and whereas the primary two attracts might be waved away, with some quantity of hidden desperation, as unusual issues taking place, yesterday’s loss to blood rival Manchester United isn’t any mere smudge on the scan. It’s an precise symptom of one thing.
For the second time away from dwelling, Liverpool appeared torpid and nearly dismissive of getting to match their opponent’s vitality. Now, all groups that get outplayed look torpid. They feed into one another. It’s why you hear so typically that dropping groups are described as “flat” and profitable groups “buoyant” or some such extension of both. But Liverpool have lacked verve, and there are causes for that which we’ll get to.
But at any time when Liverpool hit a nasty patch, and there’s at all times just a few matches in there that look determined iffy, the same old complaints get trotted out. The fullbacks get too far ahead, the protection performs too excessive of a line, it’s too dangerous, Trent Alexander-Arnold isn’t a great defender, you may’t play like this, and many others. It’s the identical factor again and again.
None of it is a secret. This is how Liverpool play, and nobody says something once they’re placing up 90+ factors in a season. Teams know what they’re dealing with, they usually know how one can counter it. It’s hardly covert. Alexander-Arnold and Andy Robertson are going to get what appears suicidally excessive up the sphere, and if you will get the ball and transfer it rapidly sufficient you knock it into the areas behind them the place Liverpool solely have their two centerbacks and whoever is occupying the No. 6 to cowl. Everyone is aware of this.
The motive so few groups have been capable of really accomplish this sufficient to beat Liverpool that always is that they’ve had a cheat code in central protection. Virgil van Dijk made this technique work. No one else can. Because his studying of the sport and his anticipation had been probably one of the best on the planet, these kinds of assaults simply by no means received off the bottom earlier than being snuffed out. Van Dijk’s skill to cease issues earlier than they occurred typically meant he hardly ever needed to dash throughout video games, a lot much less deal with.
The margins had been at all times razor skinny, enjoying as Liverpool do, as a result of it solely took one good go to open them up like a cadaver. But they appeared a lot safer and fooled everybody into considering the margins weren’t as perilous as a result of van Dijk was at all times on the proper aspect of them. It’s what made him fairly presumably one of the best defender on the planet. The complete system’s basis was him making it OK.
Notice how all these are previously tense? Because to this point this season, he has very a lot not been that.
Go again to the opening week. The second Fulham purpose was the results of a reasonably lazy and out-of-sorts patch of defending from van Dijk on Alex Mitrovic. This is the form of run towards van Dijk that most strikers wouldn’t even try. Perhaps it was the effervescent pleasure of opening day, maybe Mitrovic’s large shoulder-bound chip to show he belongs within the Premier League, maybe simply feeling optimistic on such a sunny day, however Mitrovic discovered his “Fuck it it’s free cake!” gear and received rewarded in a means that forwards simply by no means have towards van Dijk.
Head to the next week. It’s awfully harsh on van Dijk, as a result of Wilfried Zaha is certainly on one lately. But watch intently:
We’re accustomed to seeing van Dijk, even on this fairly determined state of affairs, at the least drive Zaha to his left foot (although as Villa realized this weekend, that’s hardly a secure house both) and preserve him exterior. The play breaks down means earlier than van Dijk has to intervene, like when Fabinho will get his shorts despatched into orbit by Eberechi Eze, opening up tons of time for the latter to string this by way of to Zaha. But somebody bursts upon Liverpool’s protection a couple of times each recreation. Van Dijk places out these fires. He by no means actually will get there towards Zaha, who can line this up along with his most popular proper foot.
Yesterday was an entire catastrophe. No, van Dijk had no assist from a midfield that was primarily in want of tennis balls being placed on their cleats such was their mobility, however by no means has the Dutchman appeared so flat-footed. Watch this primary purpose:
After Milner slides by as if he’s lastly been placed on the ice float he appears like he’s as a result of arrive on shortly, van Dijk simply… stands there? He doesn’t shut down Jadon Sancho, who ought to by no means have the time to readjust his physique to get again onto his proper foot and go into the open half of the online. He could have scored anyway, however certainly this angle should be closed down.
Again, the second purpose is harsh responsible van Dijk, however such has been his customary, and such is Liverpool’s dependency on that customary, you may’t depart him be completely. Yes, Jordan Henderson is slightly out of place, and his contact sucks shit, however van Dijk will get crushed to the ball by Antony Martial, and van Dijk nearly by no means will get crushed to a spot like this. Which offers Martial on a regular basis on the planet to ship Marcus Rashford by way of. Van Dijk both didn’t see Martial float into the middle circle, or was too far off of him, or didn’t anticipate Henderson’s contact.
These are the sorts of margin-calls that van Dijk has at all times been on the proper aspect of, and he needs to be, and his greatness is that he nearly at all times was. When he’s on a streak like this…properly, that is what Liverpool seem like.
There are clearly different issues. The damage listing is satanic, and nearly all in midfield. Jordan Henderson isn’t a #6 and by no means actually has been, and the decision to depart Fabinho out of the beginning lineup final night time was principally boneheaded, regardless of how his season has began. The group’s assault has been constructed to be round Darwin Nunez, a real #9, and he’s performed barely two halves to this point. They’re caught in between in attacking ways. Van Dijk has performed with three totally different companions in central protection.
But the schedule solely will get extra overbearing from right here, and nobody’s ready round. And if Liverpool followers actually need to panic, they might solid an eye fixed to Jurgen Klopp’s earlier arc at Dortmund. Klopp took two heat up seasons there earlier than producing 4 top-tier seasons, together with two Bundesliga titles and a Champions League remaining look. But in his seventh season on the Westfalenstadion, all of it fell aside, Dortmund completed seventh, and he left the membership after the season. There had been another elements at work. Robert Lewandowski high-tailed it for Munich. So did Mario Goetze, and Nuri Sahin left as properly. This is Klopp’s eighth on Merseyside.
Liverpool are clearly nonetheless adjusting to life with out Sadio Mane, who boosted the midfield at the same time as a striker final season by dropping deep and serving to out with the creation a part of the assault earlier than getting on the tip of a variety of them. Just like Roberto Firmino used to however doesn’t fairly look able to anymore. But at Dortmund, Klopp created one nice group and couldn’t maintain it previous their preliminary cycle. Numerous the gamers that spearheaded these nice Dortmund groups had been nonetheless there in 2014-2015, besides they had been both getting harm or simply weren’t the identical like Schmeltzer or Piszczek or Hummels. It may simply be that enjoying Klopp’s system for some time takes its toll. Henderson, Fabinho, Matip, van Dijk, Robertson, Alexander-Arnold, Salah, and Firmino have been round for the complete run. They all are both harm or look off it. And that’s after a 63-game season final time. It’s too early to say that’s what’s taking place. Three video games might be only a transient malaise. But Liverpool followers are mendacity to you if that thought isn’t slowly chomping away on the deep recesses of their brains.