Van Dijk: A closer look at the man key to Liverpool's title hopes

Virgil Van Dijk made his 50th Liverpool appearance as Jurgen Klopp’s men moved seven points clear at the top of the Premier League by beating Brighton 1-0.

Holland international Van Dijk was partnered in central defence by Brazil midfielder Fabinho due to the Reds’ injury problems at the back, with Mohamed Salah’s second-half penalty settling the contest in the Merseyside club’s favour.

Here, Press Association Sport analyses the 27-year-old’s performance at the Amex Stadium.

Leadership

With Dejan Lovren joining Joe Gomez on the treatment table and Joel Matip only fit enough for the bench following injury, Van Dijk was tasked with organising a four-man defence comprising makeshift centre-back Fabinho. He marshalled the back line well, once again providing Klopp’s side with a solid foundation from which to manoeuvre the ball forward to the exciting attacking quartet of Salah, Roberto Firmino, Sadio Mane and Xherdan Shaqiri.

Distribution

Virgil Van Dijk looked to play out from the back (Gareth Fuller/PA).

Van Dijk enjoyed plenty of early touches as Liverpool controlled the game and attempted to play out from the back. He was neat and tidy in possession, keeping the ball moving as the Reds probed for openings. His long-range passing was slightly less successful. Ambitious, searching balls to Shaqiri and Trent Alexander-Arnold in the first half were over-hit.

Positioning

Liverpool midfielder Fabinho played as a makeshift defender alongside Van Dijk at the Amex Stadium (Gareth Fuller/PA)

Van Dijk lined up as Liverpool’s left-sided centre-half. Brighton’s lone striker Glenn Murray clearly sensed Fabinho was the visitors’ weak link, playing close to the Brazilian and almost being rewarded with a free first-half header which was directed over. Albion’s attack created little of concern overall and Van Dijk remaining relatively untested, even after Murray was replaced by the more lively Florin Andone.

Goal threat

Virgil Van Dijk has scored only two goals since joining Liverpool (Nick Potts/PA).

The towering Dutchman, named Premier League player of the month for December, was Brighton’s biggest concern at set-pieces. He was closely marked at corners and wanted a penalty from referee Kevin Friend after being manhandled by Lewis Dunk during the opening period. Despite his aerial presence, he has managed just two goals for the club and did not seriously look like adding to his tally on the south coast.

Overall

Virgil Van Dijk was named Premier League player of the month for December (Gareth Fuller/PA)

In the build-up to the match, Brighton boss Chris Hughton claimed Van Dijk’s performances for Liverpool deserved comparison with the best centre-backs in Premier League history. He produced another assured display as Liverpool bounced back from defeat to title rivals Manchester City and their FA Cup exit at Wolves. The former Celtic and Southampton man will undoubtedly experience tougher afternoons than this one, with the Reds’ stingy defence easing to a 13th top-flight clean sheet of the season.

- Press Association

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