Since Virgil van Dijk made his first Liverpool appearance in 2018, the Reds looked like a different animal, defensively speaking. This was even more apparent last year, when the Van Dijk-led Liverpool defense could rightfully claim to be the best defense, not just in England, but in all of Europe.
However, Jurgen Klopp’s Reds have looked quite a bit more vulnerable in their opening fixtures than at any point last year. Chelsea, Southampton, and even Norwich seemed to cut through the backline far too easily, creating some big, big chances for the opposition.
Of course, there are reasons for this. Liverpool’s preseason was far from ideal, having to train in extremely hot conditions, and without some key players who were out due to extended international duty. Also, there’s the hard-to-overstate Alisson Becker-sized hole between the sticks.
Plus, as many observers have noticed, there is the implementation of VAR. Some have suggested that this new technology has led Liverpool to adopt an even more aggressive high defensive line than their already super aggressive high defensive line. Virgil van Dijk, for one, is not having it.
“In certain situations it looks like it [a high line] but I don’t think we’re doing things differently,” the PFA Player of the Year explained in an interview with The Times.
“There were certain goals disallowed and it looks then that we’re not defending pretty well.”
This is nearly identical to the line that Jurgen Klopp has taken. Now, it might be bullshit (you know we can see the tape, right?), but that seems to be the club’s official stance. Nope, nothing to see here, we definitely aren’t playing a high-wire act, in an attempt at using VAR to our advantage to catch clubs out.
“No, no! It’s nothing to do with VAR,” Van Dijk continued, “The new rule is we have to play on until the whistle, and sometimes it looks a bit chaotic, especially when we have a high line, and the player is offside and we still play on.”
Whether Liverpool’s defenders are playing a higher line or not, hopefully a full week of training will help them regain some of that organization and defensive solidity that helped them become one of the best defenses and teams in Europe last campaign. Otherwise, it could be a long afternoon against Arsenal, and a longer season thereafter.