Virgil Van Dijk was frustrated by Liverpool’s lack of pressure on the ball just before Real Madrid scored against them on Saturday night.
That’s according to Chris Sutton, who pointed out Van Dijk’s disappointment whilst writing for The Daily Mail.
“In the instance of the goal, Andy Robertson is pulled out from left back to press Luka Modric. Yet Modric finds the space to turn and play a forward pass into midfield,” wrote Sutton.
“You can see Virgil van Dijk’s frustrated reaction — back arched and with both arms outstretched — when Liverpool’s press fails.”
The pundit also felt that Virgil could have done more to stop the goal once Real worked the ball forwards.
“Real work the ball out to Federico Valverde on the wing and Van Dijk is having to cover for Robertson down that flank, though he doesn’t go out to close down his opponent and that is costly,” he says.
“Van Dijk backtracks and lets Valverde come in from the wing. At the same time, both Ibrahima Konate and Trent Alexander-Arnold are preoccupied with Karim Benzema, who is running through centrally. That allows Vinicius Junior to charge into space and on his own.”
As far as Champions League-winning goals go, it certainly wasn’t the prettiest. But as easy as it is to pick apart Liverpool’s defensive failures, in real-time there wasn’t a whole lot The Reds could do about it.
The inquest continues
Vinicius’ goal was the only shot on target that Real Madrid managed over the 90 minutes. Unfortunately, this was enough to give them the trophy.
From that point of view, you can’t be too critical of Liverpool’s defensive work. Van Dijk and Ibrahima Konate in particular both played well. They kept Karim Benzema quiet for the whole game, and very nearly did the same to Vinicius too.
In the end, a cross-shot and a slightly sloppy piece of marking at the back post have cost them.
That isn’t to say that they couldn’t have done better. But against a top-quality opponent, you will eventually give up chances.
It’s also pertinent to look at what Sutton noticed about Van Dijk. The Liverpool press is both a key attacking component but perhaps even more-so, a key part of their front-footed defending.
If a team is able to play around the press, as Madrid did here, it can sometimes leave Liverpool exposed. With players out of position and trying to race back, the opportunity for a goal like the one we saw on Saturday is pretty big.
That won’t stop Liverpool from the way they play though. The rewards of engaging teams so high up the pitch far outweighs the potential risks.
Rather than any defensive issues, it was rather Liverpool’s lack of decisiveness in-front of goal that eventually undid them.