TO Just as the modern mid-half appreciates a player has been praised All aspects of life are in position, whether it's the aesthetic side of the game or the more agricultural. Virgil van Dijk and his dying, back-to-the-wall defense don't seem like an obvious bedfellow, but he rejects the notion that his modern siblings didn't embrace him.
“I think it happens to us a lot,” he says. “Look at the 2019 Champions League final. We can score a goal and the opponent is trying to do everything possible to try and win the game. We hit the wall against Tottenham in Madrid and yes, that's a different situation than we normally have because yes, we usually attack and push forward, but there are times when we have to fall and organize. and you should enjoy this part of the game.
“You want to advance, lose the ball high, but win very high and be at the forefront. I want to leave the field thinking I can play again. It would be a perfect game, because that would mean we were all perfect, we all did our job; but I am definitely enjoying those difficult moments.
“That season we played Napoli, which should have won in the group stages. We were up 1-0 in the end and were really under pressure, but Allison purposefully provided the save, saying, “One target, we're out.” When Allison made that save, I went to her and celebrated as she scored! It feels very important and helped us win the Champions League. I enjoy both sides. I still prefer to be comfortable. Maybe it's just me.
“Look at the second game of the semi-finals against Barcelona. Three goals dropped, then four up, we were out of the game because we knew only one goal. It was incredible to keep a clean slate that night against Lionel Messi, who I thought would play the best game ever. '
Tactical fouls come from fullbacks and midfielders when the lines in front of the central defenders are broken. Today, the middle half is being called to “get on your feet”, told not to get over it, but as the last line of defense and with spectators missing the old hard and rolling of a mid-half game, is it still there? The tricks of the trade that frighten fans and forwards alike?
“First of all, we have a hundred cameras on us!” Says Van Dijk. “For me personally, I don't like hurting people. I just want to play fair and win. This is me. I'm not a guy who will try to win with different tactics.
“Some suggest I make the game look easy, but trust me, every game is very difficult. We play with world-class forwards, very physical forwards, and I never think 'This is easy'. Maybe I want my opponent to think I am. Look at Roger Federer. If you see him playing tennis, you'd think he's not sweating. Mentally, it must be very difficult for his opponent who thinks he hasn't tried.
“Sometimes I think so. Try to come up to the opponent, talk to him, not kick him, but try to make him think that if he's going to play well or score today, he needs to step up. Yes, you have to be sure of your own ability, otherwise people will march on you. There are other ways to win games; You don't have to fire or curse people. ”
The modern middle half that wants to play is still met with some degree of skepticism. An Englishman takes the mid-half, looks for a pass, wants to undo the pass, moves things forward, smiles, claps politely, but often thoughts run to the worst-case scenario. “A mistake waiting to happen,” he murmurs.
Van Dijk doesn't do that. “The position is more important today. Much more. Playing from behind is a big deal these days, especially for teams that like to have the ball. The bigger teams in world football want to have players who are comfortable on the ball, even in and around their own boxes. Being under pressure can be of great help to players entering the ball.
“During the day, maybe mid-halves were expected not to be included. Give the ball to the midfielders and then your job is to make sure the defensive organization is there and defend the goal. Now everyone is involved. You still have to do these missions, but there is a lot more demand from the defenders and the position has improved. The position of the fullbacks is also changing, they are almost like wingers in our Liverpool team, but they have to play their defense. The game has been developed. I enjoy every part of it. I am a player who loves to have the ball and I hope I make good decisions that will help the team not only in defense but also in offense.
“We have Alisson who isn't afraid to pick a Pass. The most important thing is that you do it when you think you can, not be smart for the sake of it. If I'm under pressure and sense danger, I can tell Alisson to kick the ball forward and we'll play for the second ball. We have that variety, we can mix it up by playing short and long. This is one of our important and real strengths.
“We can adapt. At the end of the day, you are responsible. If I want the ball and I make a mistake, it's my fault. I don't want to put myself in that situation if I feel it won't go right. Why did you do? To look good? Not possible! ”
Excerpt from You Can't Pass: The Anatomy of Football's Center-Half by Leo Moynihan (Bloomsbury, £16.95). It can be purchased immediately.