FIRST and foremost, any club on the planet would miss the presence of Virgil van Dijk in their back line.
The one thing which sets Van Dijk – who could miss the rest of the season after knee surgery – apart from the rest and makes him one of the best in the world is that he can do both roles.
He can be dominant on the front foot or the sweeper. That in itself is a special skill and trait to have.
But when alongside either Joe Gomez, Joel Matip or Fabinho he has predominantly been the centre half who has stepped up out of defence and maintained the high line which has allowed Liverpool to carry out their press.
Now without him, the problem Jurgen Klopp will have is that he now has centre halves who have all become used to sweeping up and will now have to step up.
Whoever he decides to pair, one will now not be able to carry out their usual role, as if they both drop back there will be a massive gap between the defence and midfield during the press.
With Van Dijk’s style of play and leadership he makes sure that does not happen.
So, they are not just losing one of the best centre backs in the world, they are losing a key cog in their style of play which will inevitably affect the dynamics of the way they play.
And we have already seen when a key piece of the machine is taken away – like Mane against Aston Villa – the whole team is unbalanced and not in tandem with each other.
In order to supplement that fact we may see Liverpool now use Gomez in that role because he is quick and has the ability to carry out recovery runs.
He is the most like-for-like swap as the other two in Matip and Fabinho don’t quite have that pace to recover.
But another way around it is Klopp may opt for a deeper defensive midfielder in their 4-3-3.
So when they are in possession of the ball they are more or less like a back three which stops teams from exploiting that gap between the two lines on the break.
Having that player in there will also keep Liverpool’s ability to turn defence into attack so quickly – which Van Dijk has been vital in with his range of passing.
They now have a player who can do that perfectly in Thiago.
He is able to offload that pressure on the centre backs to ping balls across by taking the ball off them and doing it himself.
Liverpool will score enough goals but now it is about which players take on the mantra to step up and do his jobs.
It will be a problem for the foreseeable future but Ajax are the perfect first test.
They are a team who love to get in those spaces between the defence and midfield so it will be a big challenge for Liverpool in those grey areas.
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