Five better reasons for Van Dijk’s poor Liverpool form than strange Murphy explanation

·5-min read
Virgil van Dijk Credit: PA Images
Virgil van Dijk Credit: PA Images

Liverpool centre-half Virgil van Dijk has not been even close to his imperious best in the Premier League so far this season. And here is why.

Van Dijk’s season thus far, in chronological order of games, can be summed up as follows: conceded a penalty against Fulham; failed to close down goalscorer Wilfried Zaha against Crystal Palace; got b*llocked by James Milner for being weirdly rubbish against Manchester United; did pretty well against Bournemouth; did pretty well against Newcastle; took his Jordan Pickford vendetta out on Amadou Onana’s shin.

It has not been great at all from the Dutchman but Danny Murphy reckons he has cracked the code:

“He’s not up to his level. Before his injury he was arguably looking like one of the best centre-halves we’ve ever seen. The injury, which is a huge one and he’s come back from, although he’s not had problems in missing games I think psychologically he’s not in the same place.

“What I mean by that is not wanting to be as physically engaged with players and tackles, although he had the studs one at the weekend. He’s playing within himself a little bit and protecting himself a little bit without knowing it. I’ve played with players who have had ACL injuries before and when they come back you can see them doing it.”

Van Dijk returned in August 2021, He made 51 appearances in the 2021/22 season, including three finals, playing at least 390 more minutes than his closest Liverpool teammate. He was also named in the PFA Team of the Year and Champions League Team of the Season.

Not sure it’s the injury, Danny. In fact, these five reasons are far more plausible.

 

Paul Pogba
This explanation can be traced back to July 2016, when Jurgen Klopp scoffed at the idea of spending nine-figure fees on a footballer. “If you bring one player in for £100million or whatever, and he gets injured, then it all goes through the chimney,” he argued. “The day that this is football, I’m not in a job any more, because the game is about playing together. If I spend money, it is because I am trying to build a team, a real team.”

Paul Pogba became the world-record signing for Manchester United less than two weeks later in a purely coincidental move which didn’t at all immediately outline him as symbolic of the opposite of the Liverpool manager’s ideal.

Jose Mourinho revelled in poking the bear when Klopp made Virgil van Dijk the most expensive defender in history at £75m roughly 18 months later. Liverpool will attest that everything did indeed go through the chimney upon the centre-half’s first serious injury in 2020. But it does not require a huge leap to surmise that Pogba witch-crafted the aura out of Van Dijk as a parting gift upon leaving the Premier League. Not at all.

 

Height
Van Dijk is 6ft 4in. Considering it has been proven beyond all reasonable doubt that 5ft 9in is the optimal height for a Premier League centre-half, it is worth wondering whether the Liverpool defender is simply too tall for Our Game. He can win headers and bully strikers but what about those smaller, nippier and more agile forwards? He won’t even be able to see them. You can get away with not looking down in the Eredivisie and Scotland but not here.

Van Dijk is an obvious target for opposition clubs to focus on not playing any high balls, simply running around him and asking what the weather is like up there. Shift him up front, get Thiago or Harvey Elliott in at centre-half and count the trophies as they trickle through.

Virgil van Dijk Liverpool F365 Credit: PA Images
Virgil van Dijk Liverpool F365 Credit: PA Images

 

Divock Origi
The first Liverpool season without Divock Origi on the books since 2014 was always going to be a challenge. Arsenal and Manchester United will verify the difficulties in transitioning from a club-defining autocrat such as Arsene Wenger or Sir Alex Ferguson upon their departures. Origi exerted a similar amount of influence and power behind the scenes at Anfield but that is all gone.

It has been particularly tough for Van Dijk, whose remarkably sagacious assist for Origi against Everton in December 2018 lives long in the memory. The centre-half was able to remain sharp and at his absolute peak for years because he faced the Belgian in training each week. All Van Dijk has to do now to coast through a session is give Darwin Nunez a couple of snide shoves and wait for him to lose his sh*t. It’s little wonder the bloke has become complacent.

 

World Cup
Outside of the once brilliant Nations League, Virgil van Dijk has never played in a major international tournament for Holland. A combination of their curiously fluctuating qualification record and his lack of a reliable set of knees has actually restricted the centre-half to only 47 caps. The England equivalent in that regard is either Theo Walcott or Trevor Brooking, both of whom played at the Euros and at least went to a World Cup in an official professional capacity.

With his opportunity finally presenting itself this winter, Van Dijk is content to simply go through the motions and remain fresh for the Dutch to either get knocked out at the group stage or reach the semi-final. There is no in between.

 

The nickname
Twitter is largely responsible for coining some truly iconic football nicknames, such as Fraudiola, Penaldo and LiVARpool. But ‘Van Disney’ is an objectively atrocious nickname and it’s little wonder that has started to affect Van Dijk’s performances.

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