Liverpool facing up to life without the man who markedly improved their defence

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Liverpool face a lengthy spell without defensive talisman Virgil Van Dijk after he suffered a knee injury against Everton requiring surgery.

Van Dijk was a key man in last season’s title success and has been a virtual ever-present since signing from Southampton in January 2018 – he has started 95 league matches and missed only one, while Saturday was only the second time he has failed to complete 90 minutes.

That rules out a comparison between games he has played and missed, but we can instead compare to Liverpool’s 95 most recent games without him – dating back to August 2015 – to assess the possible impact of his absence.

Liverpool with Van Dijk

Virgil Van Dijk, right, and Jordan Henderson celebrate winning the Premier League title
Virgil Van Dijk’s defensive presence helped Liverpool to their first Premier League title (Paul Ellis/PA)

Jurgen Klopp’s side have been defensively strong with Van Dijk in their side, conceding less than a goal a game and keeping clean sheets nearly half of the time (46 per cent).

They let in just 33 en route to last season’s title success, including only one in a remarkable run of 11 games between December 7 and February 15, while their valiant title challenge the previous season was built on an even more impressive record of 22 goals against.

Liverpool and Manchester City have been title rivals throughout that time and have very similar defensive records – City have conceded 75 league goals to Liverpool’s 78 since Van Dijk’s debut, while every other top-flight team has conceded over 100. In the one game the Dutchman did not play, Liverpool beat Huddersfield 3-0 in January 2018.

Those totals, of course, include the 7-2 defeat to Aston Villa in Van Dijk’s last full game before his injury – meaning that game alone accounted for nine per cent of the goals conceded by Liverpool with Van Dijk in the line-up.

Liverpool without Van Dijk

Liverpool's Premier League defensive record with and without Virgil Van Dijk
Virgil Van Dijk has improved Liverpool’s defence by around around 50 per cent (PA graphic)

The statistics show Liverpool’s defensive record is almost exactly 50 per cent better in Van Dijk’s 95 league appearances than in the most recent 95 games without him.

They have improved from 30 clean sheets in those games to 44, while cutting their goals conceded from 1.22 per 90 minutes to 0.82.

They conceded three apiece to City and Arsenal in the last five games before Van Dijk’s debut and were beaten 4-1 by Tottenham and 5-0 by City earlier that season.

A 3-3 draw and 4-3 defeat to Bournemouth and a 3-2 loss to Swansea also stand out among the games which highlighted the need for reinforcements at the back.

Van Dijk has proved just the man to solve the problem, along with goalkeeper Alisson who is also currently injured. Without them, the likes of Joe Gomez, Joel Matip, Adrian and possibly midfielder Fabinho will have to show they can hold the fort.

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