Liverpool

Van Dijk needs a replacement - who should it be?

The Dutchman is expected to miss the remainder of the season with a serious knee injury but which of his teammates should fill the void?

 
8:00am on Wednesday 4th November 2020
By
David Lynch

Liverpool may have won all four of their games since Virgil van Dijk suffered a serious knee injury at Everton, but Jurgen Klopp is still no closer to knowing who might replace the Dutchman in the long term.

Joel Matip, Fabinho, Joe Gomez, Rhys Williams and Nathaniel Phillips have all picked up minutes at centre-half since the Dutchman limped off at Goodison Park.

However, an injury crisis at the back has made it difficult to settle on a preferred pairing, with both starting positions arguably still up for grabs.

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Virgil van Dijk: Form Rating, Statistics, Playing Position

Here, we assess which of Klopp's senior options have the best claim.

In the air

If there is one thing Van Dijk guarantees you, it is dominance over the opposition in the air.

The 29-year-old won 64% of his 33 aerial duels this season prior to his injury and has typically posted figures even more impressive than that across his time at Liverpool.

If Klopp wants a similar presence in the box, he could do worse than calling on Gomez, who has won 71% of his 62 duels this season despite a reputation for being less capable in the air than his usual partner.

Matip, meanwhile, may have clocked up just seven aerial challenges thus far this term, but has won an impressive 86% of them.

Fabinho's status as a makeshift option at the back is perhaps reflected by the fact that he won just 38% of his 26 aerial duels prior to his recent hamstring injury.

On the floor

So what about challenges when the ball is on the deck?

Van Dijk posted a 67% win ratio before his season was all but ended, a figure that two of his potential successors have surpassed during their time on the pitch.

Liverpool defensive options
Nov 3, 2020
 NamePass comp %Tackles Won P90Aerials P90Goals Against P90
Virgil van Dijk37190%0.734.852.6686
Joël Matip9179%0.003.961.9872
Joe Gomez50089%0.366.662.3487
Fabinho48290%1.493.362.2484

Gomez has come off best in 69% of his challenges, while Matip's numbers are again promising, the 29-year-old having won 75% of his.

But Fabinho once again lags behind on this statistic, with a win ratio of 54% from the challenges he has contested in 2020-21.

Passing

Another major Van Dijk strength is the ability to pass the ball accurately off both feet, fact reflected in his 91% completion rate this season.

Fortunately for Liverpool, all three senior candidates to take the Netherlands international's place have posted impressive numbers in this regard.

Fabinho has completed 93% of his passes, Matip 91% and Gomez 90% across their outings this season.

Of course, these figures don't do justice to Van Dijk's ability to break lines with a long, raking pass from deep; that can be seen in an average of 11.4 long balls per 90 minutes in the Premier League this term.

Only Gomez comes close to that, having attempted 11.3 per 90, with Fabinho (6.7) and Matip (5.9) some way behind.

Conclusion

Considering their mix of aerial prowess, strength in the challenge, and passing ability, Gomez and Matip look like the perfect long-term pairing to help Klopp cope with the loss of Van Dijk.

Curiously, the two players have never been paired together at centre-half in a competitive match for Liverpool, despite having spent over four years at the club together.

But, with Matip fit again, that surprising run is likely to end soon, and will provide the added bonus of allowing Fabinho to be restored to his best position in midfield.

It then remains to be seen whether Klopp looks to break up the partnership in January, when the opportunity to bring in a fresh face will arise.

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