Chaotic, disorganized defending has been one of the hallmarks of Liverpool’s early season struggles, and much of that is down to the poor form of Virgil van Dijk. The Dutch defender has not lived up to his own lofty standards thus far. In the past, his stalwart defending has been able to cover the errors of others, but right now he is making his own errors rather than covering those made by his teammates.
Late in yesterday’s 3-3 draw with Brighton, the talismanic center-back whiffed on a clearance that would have prevented the Seagulls’ late equalizer. It served as a microcosm of a very poor defensive display from the Reds, and pundit Tim Sherwood latched onto the mistake to point out van Dijk’s need for improvement after the match.
“He just lumbers into position and that’s a switch off in concentration there,” Sherwood said of the error on Premier League Productions (quotes courtesy of the Liverpool Echo).
“It was very, very poor. Just get back into position and get your body shape correct. He just sticks his left leg out for the clearance and the ball goes underneath, it’s a poor error for someone of his quality.”
While Liverpool’s entire complement of defenders has looked off throughout the beginning of this campaign, van Dijk’s form is the most worrying because of his role as the leader and anchor of the defensive line.
“The rest of the dressing room look up to him, he’s the leader and he’s got to lead by example and show a little bit more urgency,” said Sherwood. “Not determination, of course, he’s trying and I’ll never criticise anyone [for that]. But just do the right things, go back to basics a little bit.”
The defensive struggles are also more apparent and troublesome given Liverpool’s attack also look like they are struggling to find form and cohesion as they still reckon with the summer departure of Sadio Mané. This creates a bigger need for the back line to provide a solid base for the side, and Sherwood is not seeing that.
“With Mo Salah playing the way he is at the moment, you’ve not got the firepower to outscore every team you play against. Sometimes you’re going to have to defend, doggedly, and they’re not doing that.”
As for what he thinks is wrong with van Dijk at the moment, Sherwood pointed to the fact that in addition to the errors, the Dutchman isn’t organizing those around him well enough to help cover his poor form.
“It’s almost for me, I use the phrase ‘too cool to sweat’, and that’s what he looks like at the moment. He almost finds it too easy and he’s making poor errors because he’s switching off. You have to be concentrating all of the time, and if you’re not playing well make sure others around you are and organise them.”