The Reason for Van Dijk’s Poor Form?

Virgil Van Dijk, current Liverpool defender and Netherlands National Team captain.

Liverpool defender Virgil Van Dijk has received major criticism for his relatively poor start to the season. The Reds’ defence, among other areas, have been too easy to break down and have not defended with the same urgency and intensity that we associate with Jürgen Klopp’s men.

After the comments he made following Liverpool’s 2-1 victory over Ajax at Anfield in the Champions League earlier this week, Van Dijk was slated by ex-players for not living up to the standards he’s set. However, Van Dijk has since acknowledged his and Liverpool’s slow start.

“I can do much better,” says Van Dijk (quotes via The Athletic). “If we do well I obviously get praise and if we don’t then I don’t. But I still think I need to improve and that’s fine.

“The only way to do it is play games, learn from the mistakes, don’t listen to the outside world too much, speak to the people close to you.

“We are all human beings and we all want to do as well as we can and the same goes for me.  I know for a fact I can do better – but we all can do better.”

Following his then-world-record move to Merseyside from Southampton in January 2018, Van Dijk has arguably been the best defender in the world. His transfer is seen as the piece of the jigsaw that took Liverpool to the pinnacle of world football.

Since completing his move, Van Dijk has won everything at club level. Within his first six months at the Club, Liverpool finished runners-up in the Champions League. A year later they’d go one better, beating Spurs in the final to win the UCL for the 6th time.

The season after their UCL triumph, The Reds stormed to their first league title of the Premier League era, a trophy the red half of Merseyside had been waiting 30 years for. Last season, Liverpool racked up both domestic cup competitions, beating Chelsea on penalties in both the Carabao Cup and The FA Cup.

However, early in the 2020/2021 season, Van Dijk picked up an injury at the hands of Everton goalkeeper Jordan Pickford that sidelined the Dutchman for the best part of a year.

The defender only returned to action at the beginning of the 2021/2022 campaign where, although it was evident he wasn’t at the same level pre-injury, Van Dijk still performed admirably as Liverpool pushed Man City to the end in an enthralling title race. The Dutch International was even included in the PFA Premier League Team of the Year.

This season, on the other hand, Van Dijk looks like a shadow of himself. And it seems the World Cup could be the reason for his poor form.

The Netherlands National team will appear at their first major tournament in Qatar this year since the 2014 World Cup. The Dutch, under the captainship of Van Dijk, will be hoping to deliver for their fans, considering the disappointment of missing out on the three previous major international competitions.

Van Dijk’s biggest criticism this season in terms of defending has come from not engaging with opposition attackers. The centre back often backs off and puts his hands behind his back to avoid contact with it. This often allows attackers an extra yard of space and more time as Van Dijk opts not to engage.

Given Van Dijk’s undoubted mental scars as a result of the horrific injury he picked up a few years ago, it could be that Van Dijk decides not to engage in the tackle out of fear of putting his body in a position where he could potentially get injured. The Liverpool star will most certainly not want to spend another prolonged period on the treatment table, especially with the World Cup coming up.

The tournament in Qatar will be Van Dijk’s first major tournament as a Dutch International. Given that the defender is now 31-years-old, he will be desperate to participate in this year’s World Cup and to showcase his undoubted class on the biggest stage of them all.