Van Dijk’s Return
Liverpool’s display in their 1-1 draw with Chelsea may have been hit-and-miss overall, but Virgil van Dijk’s immaculate performance was a big positive on the day.
We all expected the Reds’ Premier League opener to be fairly chaotic, and that’s exactly what happened in west London.
A lack of an out-and-out defensive midfielder on either side made both sets of supporters pining for two versions of Moises Caicedo on the pitch, and it proved to be a thrilling spectacle for the neutral.
For Liverpool, the positives just about outweighed the negatives, with the attack looking vibrant throughout the first half, not least when Luis Diaz brilliantly finished off a slick move to open the scoring.
It’s fair to say that the Reds’ new system is still experiencing some teething issues, however, as Andy Robertson again struggled, not helped by the fact that Cody Gakpo and Diaz were offering him little to no support.
Trent Alexander-Arnold couldn’t get into the game, Alexis Mac Allister did well but isn’t a natural No.6, and Chelsea eventually became the better team, looking the most likely to nick a win late on.
While Mac Allister and fellow debutant Dominik Szoboszlai rightly received praise, and Alisson was again a beast between the sticks, Virgil van Dijk produced a faultless 90 minutes that feels so important.
There is no question that the Dutchman fell miles below the ‘best in the world’ level we have become accustomed to last season, not helped by an ageing team around him, and there have been concerns that he may simply have peaked as a footballer.
Now past that milestone age of 30 that immediately sees footballers naturally written off compared to when they’re younger, perhaps it has been a fair assumption given what has happened over the past 12 months or so.
Reds’ New Leader
Liverpool’s new captain looked like the Van Dijk of old on Sunday afternoon, however, doing his job expertly and holding together a defence exposed by an attacking midfield.
The Reds’ legendary No.4 made 10 clearances at Stamford Bridge up against a Chelsea outfit who became increasingly inspired as the minutes ticked by, and he also won both of his aerial duels.
Three interceptions came his way, too, and there was one turn of pace to thwart Raheem Sterling out wide that suggested he hasn’t lost too much speed after his cruciate ligament injury almost three years ago.
Ibrahima Konate’s performance alongside Van Dijk also deserves a mention, with the Frenchman another who did little wrong, but it was his older teammate who was the pick of the defence.
This is only one game, of course, and we need to see the Netherlands star hit this level for a sustained period again to truly show he has turned a massive corner, but this was so encouraging to see.
In truth, the manner of his dropoff has still been overblown – last season, he was still better than many centre-backs around, but just didn’t look like one of the best defenders of all time – but he has still looked human for once and Liverpool need him to be the unrivalled 2018-2022 version in order for them to challenge for major trophies in 2023/24.
Van Dijk has started his season with a captain’s performance and the hope is that this is just the start of his imperious next chapter at Anfield.