Infection: Deflection, and the Van Dijk Reflection

[Aston Villa 7 – 2 Liverpool]

Pandemic-wise, the first part of the title sort of wrote itself. Can anyone look up and let me know how many times in premier league history has one side enjoyed three goals via material (that is, that actually converted an attempt) deflection? I can’t imagine it having happened too many times, but then again, how often does Liverpool ship out seven?

And make no mistake about it – many of them were giveaways. Which leads us to the second part.

There is no question that the Reds’ defense today was shambolic, even disastrous. With the exception of one Andrew Robertson, the rest of them would have all deservedly earned the solid rating of one, were I to assign such ratings, which I don’t. But as I pointed out in last week’s column, it all starts and ends with one player, the Liverpool number four, who has apparently decided that his prolonged visit to mount Olympus to hang out with the gods has ended. Now he’s just another very good centerback, which in the way Liverpool plays, is simply not good enough. To me at home it seems like he still yells at everyone the same way (being able to hear those shouts in empty stadiums is still an eerie sort of treat), but everything else he’s doing is just not… quite… the same. His touches and passes are a tiny bit less precise. His timing is a wee bit off. His desire to be in the right place at the right time all the time seems a bit lessened. Those long legs of his don’t seem to extend as far. He can be dribbled around. As a result of all that, the defense ends up looking less organized and more vulnerable. Just like Van Dijk used to make everyone around him look better by himself being exceptional, what we observe now is the flip side of the same coin: everyone looks worse for wear because Van Dijk just seems… human.

None of this is to take away from Villa’s masterful performance.

Cast your mind to Belo Horizonte, in July of 2014. Yes, that game. The utter dismantling of an otherwise decent Brazil team by an organized, determined, and lethal Germany squad, in the semi-finals of the world cup. The incredulous voice of the caster as he was repeating the words “five-nil! five-nil!” several times after the germans got that many goals in less than thirty minutes, as if to convince himself that it was real, came naturally to mind. But the reality is that the scoreline today, humiliating as it might be if you’re a merseysider, is misleading. Villa were not dominant in the way Germany was in 2014. In fact, Liverpool still had over seventy percent of possession, and roughly the same number of attempts on goal. On any other day, the Reds could have easily emerged with a hard-earned 2-1 victory.

Not today. As an avid aficionado of the genre, this game felt straight out of Football Manager, when the engine tries to punish you for doing too well over too long a period.

I won’t bother to recount all those goals. Ollie Watkins certainly had himself a night to remember with his hat-trick, but my man of the match is the ever-present Jack Grealish, whose importance to his side cannot be overstated. On the Liverpool side, yes, Adrian effectively opened the scoring, but he made some excellent saves later on, and stuff like this happens in football. More positively, aside from Robbo, Jota also deserves a good word, and of course Salah, who bagged a couple for himself, both of them beauties. In the end, all credit to the Villans, a side who barely avoided relegation last season, and who are having themselves a remarkable and memorable opening to this one.

A game to forget? Not really (not that I think anyone is going to forget it for a long time). It’s clear that Klopp will have much to talk about in the dressing room and in Melwood as we go into the international break. There is always a lot to be learned from these moments, and if there is any manager I would trust to use this for good purpose, it is that smiling, determined, and lethal (in a footballing sense) german we have at the helm.

After all, next up are the Toffees right across the park, who must be licking their chops right now. I think we can take this loss philosophically, but we really can’t afford to go through a similar thing again in two weeks time.

Not in that game.