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Sunday, August 14, 2022
Home Sports SOCCER Virgil van Dijk back to his best as Liverpool hold Inter Milan...

Virgil van Dijk back to his best as Liverpool hold Inter Milan at arms’ length in Champions League win


The six or so months since he returned from injury have not exactly been replete with moments in which Virgil van Dijk could reassert his case for being the world’s best center back. That is of course through no fault of his own; the simple reality of being a defender in this Liverpool side is that for most of the time the ball is far away from where you are supposed to be.

Van Dijk has always been a supremely effective component of his side’s possession game. In flashes during the course of the Premier League season, he has shown enough to suggest that there are no lasting issues from the anterior cruciate ligament that ended his (and Liverpool’s) season in October 2020.

Thanks to Inter, we at least got to see that pre-injury, peak-of-his-powers Van Dijk once more. This is a center back for whom it all comes much too easily, one that probably has not had to break into a sweat since he made the move to Anfield. A well-organized, inventive and energetic Inter Milan threw everything they could at Van Dijk. They barely left a mark.

The sprightly Ivan Perisic fired in one cross after another. Liverpool’s captain scarcely seemed to notice as he flicked them away.

Admittedly, there are tougher foot races in European football than 35-year-old Edin Dzeko, a man who moves with all the explosiveness of an elderly lighthouse keeper. Still, Van Dijk did not have to be so mean about taking the ball from him. As the Inter Milan striker hurtled after the ball with whatever energy he could muster, his covering defender eased past him without any suggestion that he needed to up his stride.

Credit to Dzeko, who at least attempted to get on over on his titanic opponent. Lautaro Martinez, on the other hand, saw a one-on-one with Van Dijk and reached the conclusion that he’d rather take on the other nine outfield opponents.

While his playing partner, the excellent Ibrahima Konate, was relishing the punches being thrown at him by Inter, Van Dijk seemed content to keep his opponent at arms’ length. He would say after the game that he was well aware of the pressure being placed on Liverpool’s goal, particularly early in a second half where territory favored the hosts, but you never sensed that he felt ill at ease.

“Everyone expects to be under pressure, it’s the Champions League,” Van Dijk said. “The message before was you need to be ready to suffer and do the hard work. It is a very good performance, clean sheet and happy days.”

That only served to heighten the frustration for Simone Inzaghi’s side. They put together a thoroughly impressive performance in all facets of the game. Without the ball their pressing was shrewd enough to box Liverpool into their own third without them having to commit the numbers forward that would make them vulnerable at the back.

When they had the ball, they were capable of keeping it in dangerous areas for a long time, Perisic peppering the Liverpool box with tempting crosses as Hakan Calhanoglu flitted around the penalty area. There were gaps around Trent Alexander-Arnold and Andrew Robertson. Inter were exploiting them.

Speaking after the game, Klopp seemed far from impressed by his side’s defending before the ball got into the Liverpool area. “They came up a bit with the direct play and their switches to the wing-backs, we did not defend that too well and our full-backs were alone in a one-on-one situation. It does not work properly like that. “

But what did all that Inter pressure amount to? Not a single save for Alisson to make in the Liverpool goal. There was no way around the Van Dijk-Konate brick wall. After that flurry of pressure leading up to the hour, it seemed the Italian champions knew it was not going to be their night.

Klopp added the steadying influence of Jordan Henderson and Naby Keita alongside the invention of Luis Diaz. Roberto Firmino had already entered the fray for the injured Diogo Jota. Meanwhile, Inzaghi had Alexis Sanchez and a few hopeful gambles.

It was to be those changes that won the game, Firmino flicking in a magnificent header off a rare lapse by Inter defending a corner. From the 75th minute onwards, it was a matter of whether Liverpool could kill off this tie, a late goal from the dangerous Mohamed Salah reflecting the pressure that Diaz and the other fresh legs could put on the Nerazzurri goal.

Inter will not concede defeat in this tie just yet, but they will know that when miracles happen at Anfield on European nights, it tends not to be for the visitors. Certainly not when Liverpool have Van Dijk marshalling the defense. If he is in this form again in three weeks’ time, progress for Inter might just be drawing a save from Alisson.





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