Liverpool: ‘No Virgil van Dijk, no defensive vision’ – Harry Kewell analysis

They left it late – again – but Liverpool are into the final of the Fifa Club World Cup after beating Mexican side Monterrey on Wednesday.

The Reds began with Roberto Firmino, Sadio Mane and Trent Alexander-Arnold on the bench, Virgil van Dijk absent altogether through illness and midfielder Jordan Henderson deputising at centre-back.

But while Liverpool’s starting line-up was unfamiliar, the eventual outcome was not.

Jurgen Klopp’s side have made a habit of scoring late goals to settle closely-fought matches this season, and this time Firmino was their hero with a 91st-minute winner.

It means Liverpool will face Brazilian side Flamengo in Saturday’s final – live on BBC One from 17:15 GMT.

Former Reds midfielder Harry Kewell,who played for the club when they lost in the final of this competition in 2005, explains here why he is confident that, this time, they will win – as long as Van Dijk is fit.

‘Van Dijk makes Reds calm and comfortable’

Before Wednesday, Van Dijk had missed only three of Liverpool’s 28 games in all competitions in 2019-20, all of them in the Carabao Cup – including Tuesday’s defeat by Aston Villa when he was with the rest of the senior players in Qatar and the Reds picked their youngest ever team.

Without him – and hardly helped by injuries to their other centre-halves Dejan Lovren (hamstring) and Joel Matip (knee) – Liverpool looked a lot less assured.

“When I watch Liverpool play, I see Virgil constantly talking to everyone around him,” Kewell told BBC Sport. “He is always communicating with his full-backs, and the people in front of him.

“Yes people talk about him being a great defender because he can play out from the back and is comfortable on the ball, but a defender’s first job is to defend – and, in the case of Van Dijk, it is to organise the rest of his defence too.

“That is what Liverpool missed the most against Monterrey. No-one had his kind of defensive vision, or ability to spot danger.

“Despite their lack of composure at the back, they actually defended pretty well for the most part but one thing I would criticise was the goal they conceded.

“No-one saw Stefan Medina’s run to the far post, and once he had the leap on Naby Keita, there was no way Keita could defend it. After that, they did not really defend as a unit when the ball was in the box.

“I don’t see that happening if Van Dijk is on the pitch.

“Clearly, they need him back in the team to face Flamengo – if he is fit, Liverpool will be calm and comfortable at the back and everyone will be a lot more relaxed.”

‘A squad of serial winners’

Liverpool keeper Alisson and Reds boss Jurgen Klopp
Alisson made eight saves against Monterrey – “he was incredible,” said Kewell

This was the third time Liverpool have scored an injury-time winner this season – and the sixth occasion they have managed it in 2019.

For Kewell, the fact they did it 3,400 miles from home and in a competition that has had its credibility questioned, was more evidence that Klopp has built a squad of serial winners.

“To be honest, as a Liverpool fan, I really want to see them destroy teams early on – but at the moment they are creating a lot of chances they are not finishing,” he explained.

“The great thing about this side, though, is that they don’t seem to give up – and I don’t think you can ever switch off against them.

“They are relentless, right to the end. I think that is the only way they know how to play and Klopp seems to have instilled that mentality in his whole squad, not just his first eleven.

“Klopp has created an environment where all his players are hungry, they are all fighting for a place and every time they get a chance they know they have to perform.

“What I like is that it is not one player who is the star. It is someone different every week – Alisson was outstanding against Monterrey for example.

“They are all competing with each other as well as working together and, of course, the important thing is that – when it really matters – they always produce something special.

“That’s why I am so confident they will beat Flamengo on Saturday.

“I just cannot see anyone stopping this Liverpool team at the moment. They are so good it is frightening – and every time I think a team has worked them out, they just find the next level.”

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