It’s not unthinkable that Virgil van Dijk can help shave 10 goals a season off the Goals Against column at Liverpool over the course of a season, with his pace, awareness, aggression and height – so vital on defending set-pieces – but could he add 10 at the other end, too?
In the Mersey derby – made all the better by giving the Toffees some hope before brutally crushing it with a late winner – Liverpool fielded what I think must be its tallest defence since the days of Markus Babbel, Sami Hyypia, Stephane Henchoz and Jamie Carragher; the “colossal oaks” of 2000/01 under Gérard Houllier. This Liverpool defence has the exact same average height – a shade over 6’2” – even with the excellent but average-sized Andrew Robertson in its ranks. Unlike the giant Joel Matip, whose aerial win-percentage is great because of his sheer verticality, van Dijk can actually add power and direction to his headers. Everton couldn’t handle him.
Van Dijk managed 10 goals for Celtic in 2014/15, and while that league is much weaker, he didn’t exactly have great players alongside him. He’s older now, and more aggressive with it. If Philippe Coutinho stays then VvD could feast on the deliveries, although if the little Brazilian goes, the Dutchman will take more free-kicks, as a dead-ball specialist. And while Oxlade-Chamberlain looks a little lost as a winger (but has shone in midfield of late), his deliveries were perfect tonight, as they have been in recent matches. Joe Gomez also missed a sitter from a set-piece, and this is against a Sam Allardyce team, where set-plays are everything. Liverpool now have the size to deal with set-pieces at both ends, and how many goals could that be worth?
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