How Liverpool defend without Virgil van Dijk: Jamie Carragher examines on Monday Night Football

Just how have Liverpool done it?

Virgil van Dijk’s season-ending injury alone was supposed to throw the title race wide open, but the champions have conceded just three goals in all competitions since losing the Netherlands international.

With key defensive figures Joe Gomez and Trent Alexander Arnold also out injured for the visit of a Leicester City side spearheaded by the prolific Jamie Vardy, the Reds embarked on the sternest test of their defensive reserves.

The unfamiliar partnership of Fabinho and Joel Matip took centre stage, but, once again, Liverpool rose to the challenge, and Jurgen Klopp proved he had the answers to the biggest of defensive dilemmas before it had the chance to derail his title defence.

“It’s an outstanding job from the players who have actually come in,” Jamie Carragher told Monday Night Football.


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But how have Liverpool done it? The Sky Sports pundit breaks down the subtle tactical changes behind Liverpool’s seamless transition to life without Van Dijk…

High line, different execution

“When Liverpool went out [against Leicester], people said they would completely change,” Carragher explains. “They would drop of 10 or 15 yards. I watch a lot of Liverpool’s games and I didn’t quite see it.

“I’ve analysed how they played against Vardy and no one can tell me Liverpool dropped off 10 or 15 yards without Van Dijk. They were still playing a high line, but the difference is the body position the likes of Fabinho adopted.

“Yes, we can talk about him being a midfield player in there, but he’s been outstanding. What he did was play a high line but be ready to run back when the ball went over his head. He ran back and dealt with it [balls over the top of Vardy].”

Running back and matching runs

“When we talk about Van Dijk, let’s not forget he’s been part of a back four for the last couple of years that have had the best defensive record in the league, and I’m sure that would’ve been the case this season with him,” Carragher adds.

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“But there was no doubt Liverpool had huge problems at the start of the season. They conceded three at home against Leeds and then there was obviously the game against Aston Villa.

“We have spoken a lot on Monday Night Football about Liverpool’s line and it’s difficult at times to criticise a team that have a great defensive record and have been so successful.

“There were times when I’d look at the line and think ‘run back’. Certainly, in the Aston Villa game, where obviously Liverpool got it massively wrong.

“At times it was not so much about how high the line was, it was just the fact that I always felt that Liverpool’s defenders needed to be in a position to actually run back. ‘Just run back and match the run. We’re in a decent line, okay they have beat the press and have time on the ball, let’s just give ourselves two or three yards. That’s all it was.”

Leaders emerging all over the pitch

“When you have that huge figure you look to in a certain position, and he’s out, it’s up to others to step in,” Carragher adds.

“Sometimes it is not just one player, it can be three or four at one time. What we are seeing now is that there is maybe a lot more leadership from other people.”

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‘Training ground work bears fruit’

Former Bournemouth manager Eddie Howe join Carragher in the Monday Night Football studio and claimed Liverpool’s performances on the pitch were borne solely from concerted defensive work on the training pitches.

“What’s happened because of the injury to Van Dijk, they’ve looked at their back four and defenders and thought they need to do some work on it,” Howe added. “They probably thought they needed to get the guys together and in tune with each other.

“A lot of this has probably come from the training ground and working with the back four to get the basics right because it’s a new back four in effect. They’ve gone back to basics and that’s the result.”

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