Virgil van Dijk suffered defeat in his first Premier League appearance for Liverpool as the Reds were beaten 1-0 by struggling Swansea at the Liberty Stadium. Here, we assess the efforts of the world’s most expensive defender of all time…
After the high of becoming the first Premier League team to beat Manchester City this season, this was the low. Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp had stressed before the game that his players must not underestimate the threat posed by Swansea. But his team surrendered the points nevertheless with Alfie Mawson’s first-half goal separating the sides.
“It is very important that we all show the perfect attitude tonight because I think life can be quite a challenge maybe,” Klopp had told Sky Sports. “Our last game was against the top of the table and now it is against the bottom of the table. It is all about the right attitude and I expect from Virgil, of course, as well the right attitude.”
Virgil van Dijk had missed the 4-3 win over City at Anfield but was included in the Liverpool starting line-up for the first time in the Premier League. His appearance against Everton in the FA Cup had been a dream – scoring the winner. This was not quite a nightmare but Van Dijk was culpable for Mawson’s goal, failing to get enough on his headed clearance.
“It was a poor header from Van Dijk,” former Liverpool defender Jamie Carragher told Sky Sports. “It wasn’t really his header.” Defending set-pieces has been a perceived weakness of Liverpool in recent times and there was some hope that the £75m man’s dominance in the air would put a stop to such sloppiness. Those expectations were unfair, says Carragher.
“It is absolute nonsense that one player comes in and fixes the whole problem,” he added. “He’s not that good. He is obviously a good centre-back and he cost the club a lot of money but he is only one player. This idea that Virgil van Dijk is going to head away every set-piece is an absolute joke. It is not happening.”
Even so, the partnership between him and Joel Matip, expected to be Klopp’s first-choice pairing, have now lost their first Premier League game alongside each other. Curiously given the criticism, that is already as many Premier League games as Matip and Dejan Lovren have lost together this season. As many away games as they have lost together ever.
However, much of the rest of Van Dijk’s work was positive. He made eight clearances. His team-mates made only three between them. He won the most aerial duels. He had more touches than anyone on the pitch and completed more passes too. Only Mohamed Salah had more shots and Van Dijk was even clocked as the fastest player on the pitch.
Van Dijk in stats
• Most clearances (8)
• Most aerial duels won (10)
• Most touches (132)
• Most completed passes (113)
• Fastest player (34.03 km/h)
He has the physical attributes to defend on the halfway line and the technical attributes to bring the ball out against opponents who are content to get men behind the ball. Van Dijk’s lofted pass put Salah through in the first half only for him to volley over and it was his clipped cross in stoppage time that Roberto Firmino headed against the post.
These are the qualities that Van Dijk can bring and Liverpool supporters are entitled to be optimistic that the Dutchman can be a big upgrade on what they already had in the building. But defeat to Swansea is also a sobering reminder that there will still be slip-ups along the way.