Virgil van Dijk can solve £83m Liverpool problem this weekend

Very few people are fans of calendar year stats at the best of times, but a look at the Premier League table for 2022 certainly makes for interesting reading ahead of this weekend. Liverpool are top of the tree, with 12 wins and two draws from their 14 matches, and second – albeit they’ve played twice more than Manchester City – are Newcastle United.

As they were above only Norwich in the league table as 2021 drew to a close, that’s an impressive upturn in form for the Magpies. That’s partly down to them having hired a more adventurous and modern coach, with Eddie Howe having replaced Steve Bruce in late November, but more down to the lavish spending implemented by their wealthy new owners in January.

A club which had made a net transfer spend of approximately £99million in the preceding four seasons splashed out £83million in one window. It’s hardly a surprise that results improved.

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There will no doubt be further big sums spent in the years ahead too. But Liverpool can’t worry about that yet. Their match at St James’ Park on Saturday lunchtime offers an opportunity for the Reds to return to the top of the Premier League before Manchester City travel to Leeds for the early evening kick-off.

Even if we were to ignore Newcastle’s fine form, it will not be an easy task for Liverpool to return south with three points. The match will kick off approximately 63 hours after the Reds’ Champions League semi-final first leg with Villarreal concludes, and Jurgen Klopp has already voiced his displeasure regarding the timing of the match with the Magpies.

“If you want to cause us problems you send us at 12:30 to Newcastle. I don’t understand it,” were his thoughts on the matter. “Bite the bullet,” was Howe’s response. Fortunately for Klopp, he still has the far stronger of the two squads and he has one man upon whom he can rely in this game.

The influence Virgil van Dijk has had upon Liverpool’s success since he signed for the club hardly needs retelling here. Put simply, he has been a colossus, and his absence was keenly felt by the Reds when he missed the majority of the 2020/21 campaign thanks to injury.

While the Dutchman will always be more noted for his defensive prowess, he has picked up more goals than you might think. Indeed, only 10 players have bagged more for the Reds in the Klopp era, which neatly illustrates the threat van Dijk brings at set pieces.

He has several favored opponents, one of whom is Newcastle. Liverpool’s number four has scored twice against them just as he has against Brighton, Leeds and Watford. There’s one key difference when it comes to the Magpies though: his two strikes against them have both come away from home, when his pairs against the other clubs were all scored at Anfield.

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The more notable of his goals at St James’ Park occurred in a very similar fixture. It was sandwiched between Liverpool’s Champions League matches with Barcelona, ​​and they won late on thanks to a goal from Divock Origi. It was van Dijk who broke the deadlock early in the game though, by converting a corner from Trent Alexander-Arnold.

He also scored in a set piece situation the following season. However, that match was the final game of 2019/20, long after the Reds had secured the league title, so it was nowhere near as important as Saturday’s encounter will be. That was van Dijk’s last appearance against Newcastle too, with illness ruling him out of the Reds’ 3-1 victory in December.

Clearly his influence will be more apparent at the back end of the team this weekend. As Newcastle have played the second fewest through balls in the division, while only four sides have been caught offside fewer times, it’s unlikely they will give Liverpool’s high defensive line a severe test. But they are joint-fourth in the Premier League for headed goals and sixth best for scoring from set pieces, so Virgil will need to be at his imperious best in the air.

And if he can get one at the other end of the field, all the better. Feyenoord are the only team van Dijk has scored three goals against across his career, back in his Groningen days. Adding Newcastle to that list to carry himself into Klopp’s top 10 scorers will be an excellent way to keep the Reds’ title tilt on track.


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