Van Dijk's return has unlocked Liverpool's missing attacking threat

Virgil van Dijk and Co’s return has bolstered Liverpool’s defence and unlocked an attacking threat that went missing last year… with seven goals from set pieces already this season, Jurgen Klopp has a key weapon back at his disposal

  • Liverpool’s cup win saw them score their seventh goal from set plays this season
  • The Reds netted 17 times from set pieces as they romped to the title in 2019-20
  • But dead-ball goals were slim for Jurgen Klopp’s side amid last season’s woes 
  • They have generated a total of 43 shots from set pieces so far this term 
  • Title rivals Manchester City have 27, Man United 22 and Chelsea 16, meanwhile

The return of defensive trio Virgil van Dijk, Joe Gomez and Joel Matip was always guaranteed to give Liverpool’s backline a boost but surprisingly it could be benefitting the Reds more at the other end of the pitch.

The Reds’ 3-0 triumph over Norwich City in the Carabao Cup on Tuesday saw Takumi Minamino score from a Kostas Tsimikas corner just four minutes into the game.

The goal was Liverpool’s seventh from a set piece in all competitions so far this season in just as many games. 

Takumi Minamino scored the first goal in Liverpool’s 3-0 win over Norwich from a corner

The Reds were rampant in their victory in the third round of the Carabao Cup on Tuesday

All three goals in the Reds’ win over Crystal Palace in the league last Saturday originated from set pieces, proving how vital they have become to their glory over the last few seasons.  

Set pieces were a pivotal part of their campaign when they romped to their first Premier League title in 2019-20. 

Jurgen Klopp’s side scored 17 goals from set plays, excluding penalties, on their way to the Premier League crown but failed to equal that tally as their title defence crashed and burned. 

The Reds bagged just 13 from 140 shots from set pieces last season, leaving them with an average of 0.34 per game – a drop from the previous campaign’s 0.45. 

In fact, they suffered a slight drought as they scored eight in their first 23 games to then go 20 games without one. 

Mohamed Salah scored the second goal from a set play in the Reds’ victory over Crystal Palace 

Set pieces were pivotal to Liverpool’s success in their Premier League crowning season

But Liverpool appear to be back on track as the title race heats up, and it is set to be tight this season.

Champions Manchester City, Manchester United and Chelsea are sure to put up strong challenges as they look to keep the Premier League trophy out of Jordan Henderson and Co’s hands.

But Liverpool could have already found their edge over the competition.

They have generated a total of 43 shots from set pieces in the Premier League this season, which is notably more than second-placed Manchester City on just 27, and Burnley in third on 24.

Meanwhile, Chelsea have generated just 16 attempts, and United’s current total is 22.

Liverpool have also scored the most from dead-ball situations with five in the Premier League, placing them ahead of Chelsea on four and United, by contrast, who are yet to find the net. 

According to a report by The Athletic, Klopp put a focus on set-pieces in pre-season.

The German brought in Dr Niklas Hausler and Patrick Hantschke from German company Neuro11 in order to help the team find an edge in their delivery of set-pieces, with Mohamed Salah and Trent Alexander-Arnold highlighted as players looking to maximise their threat.

But it is the return of their centre backs that has been the key to unlocking one of their main sources of goals. 

An onslaught of injuries obliterated Liverpool’s quest to retain their title last season.

The absence of Van Dijk, Matip and Gomez left a huge void in the Reds’ backline but it may have been felt deeper than the obvious defensive woes.  

It is no coincidence that Liverpool’s set play goal bounty has coincided with the return of their defensive talismans. 

Virgil van Dijk returned to action against Hertha Berlin after 285 days out of the game

Last season’s stand-ins Nat Phillips and Rhys Williams and emergency defenders Henderson and Fabinho had an admirable attempt at keeping the conceded goal tally down but it was in attack that Klopp’s side most keenly felt the brunt of their injury woes.   

Liverpool were shorn of the height and dominance of Van Dijk and Gomez in the box, who, even when they don’t score, occupy the opposition’s defenders’ attention enough to let their team-mates have a shot. 


A comparison of Virgil van Dijk with the best centre backs in Europe’s five biggest leagues reveals he is one of finest attacking defenders on the continent. In 2019-20 Van Dijk was in the:

Top one percent of centre backs for:

Long passes completed

Through balls

Top three percent for:


Shots on target

Progressive passing distance

Switch passes

Top 10 percent for:

Pass completion

Passes into final third

Progressive passes

Ball carries

Goal creating actions


In the absence of their defensive generals, Alexander-Arnold and Andy Robertson found themselves shackled to more traditional full back roles. 

The duo are Liverpool’s main creative hub, with 71 league assists between them.

But the assist kings were forced to curb their attacking instincts to ensure that the Reds’ back door wasn’t left open and vulnerable without the stability of their defensive stalwarts. 

With Liverpool’s defensive ranks fully restocked, the pair are free to bomb down the wings once again.

The aerial ability of Van Dijk, in particular, in set pieces is not the only attacking advantage he offers Klopp. 

While the Dutchman brings stability to Liverpool’s back line, it’s his ability to propel his team forwards that can power Liverpool back into contention for the Premier League title this season. 

‘Quality and speed’ were too often missing last season in Van Dijk’s absence. Attacks became predictable, with passing ponderous through midfield and Sadio Mane, in particular, found himself too often shackled by deep-set defences when the ball finally arrived. 

It was the Dutchman’s extraordinary ability to hit pinpoint long range passes that put Liverpool on the front foot en-route to the title in 2019-20, helping to deliver 85 goals in the Premier League, compared to just 68 last time around. 

In the title-winning season, Van Dijk’s was in the top one percent of centre backs across Europe for long passes completed, managing almost 16 per game at a completion rate of 79.2 per cent, and through balls.

It is telling that an assessment of Van Dijk’s game by the analysts, Ai Abacus, reveals he is rated higher for pass completion, progressive passes, build up play and passing range than he is for his tackling and defending in one-vs-one situations.

That snapshot serves to underline Van Dijk’s importance to Liverpool’s offensive threat. 

Analysts Ai Abacus have rated Van Dijk’s qualities and he is strong defensively and offensively

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