A disappointing 2022-23 campaign is in the rearview. The Reds are forced to lick their wounds this summer after an underwhelming fifth-placed finish and missing out on the Champions League. Trying to pinpoint what went wrong last season for LFC leads to a multitude of conclusions. However, one aspect that cannot be overlooked is the leaky defense that proved to be the side’s undoing more often than not.
You can’t talk about the Liverpool defense without mentioning Virgil van Dijk. Unfortunately, our colossal center-half had his worst season in a red shirt last year. The normally dominant Dutchman was caught out quite a bit throughout the year. Lapses in judgment, a lack of urgency, and simple mistakes proved too costly too often for the club overall.
What’s Gone Wrong?
Pointing the finger solely at van Dijk for LFC’s defensive decline is simply disingenuous. Many things played a part in the club’s overall drop in form, chief among them being our aging midfield. That issue is being readily addressed during this summer transfer window. These reinforcements are critical for Jurgen Klopp’s high-intensity, high-risk/high-reward style of play. Even a slight drop in tempo is clearly noticeable as was observed last season. That turnstile of a midfield in front of Virgil did him and his defensive compatriots no favors by leaving them exposed time and time again. Hence, our spending patterns through June and July.
An LFC Reality Check
Nevertheless, I think it is time for us, as Liverpool fans, to accept that our #4 is a level below the all-conquering defender he was during his prime years. This isn’t necessarily bad, but it requires a shift to more-tempered expectations for a man who has downgraded from a defensive demi-god to just one of the best at his given position.
Again, it’s not the end of the world. Just look at what VVD did in the 2021-22 season which came immediately after his ACL surgery. Last season could very well just have been an off-year. But we have to keep the thought that it wasn’t in the back of our minds.
New System, New Virgil?
It would be remiss of me to say that van Dijk looked leaps and bounds better following the Reds’ system change towards the end of last season. The three-at-the-back structure that Liverpool employs on the ball doesn’t require the centerbacks to hold such a high line as the previous system did. This leaves Virgil and company less exposed to counters on a change of possession. The new structure emphasizes Trent Alexander-Arnold’s use of the football from deep areas, a skill that he excels in. Ensuring that things keep ticking in possession allows for steadiness for the back.
It is worth noting that the crop of clubs this system was implemented against wasn’t the strongest. This style will surely be play-tested further as the new season looms. For van Dijk and for LFC, next season serves as one giant reset button for everyone to take a breath and right the ship. If there’s one thing I can say with certainty, Liverpool absolutely needs our best version of Virgil van Dijk possible. We can’t reach our desired heights without him re-establishing himself once again.