Ken Early: Liverpool have crumbled without Virgil van Dijk

Liverpool have to be more cautious without defender, leading to a system breakdown

  Liverpool   defender Virgil van Dijk’s absence is causing his side to crumble. Photograph:   Catherine Ivill/POOL/AFP via Getty Images

Liverpool defender Virgil van Dijk’s absence is causing his side to crumble. Photograph: Catherine Ivill/POOL/AFP via Getty Images

Over the years, successive generations of Liverpool and Manchester United players have played out an almost unbroken series of appalling matches between England’s most successful clubs. Naturally the question arises as to why this particular big-club rivalry is so uniquely awful in the world of football. It’s not unknown for there to be good matches between Real Madrid and Barcelona, between the Milan sides, Boca and River . . . Why should Liverpool v Manchester United be so reliably terrible?

At some point, desperate for anything to take your mind off the game, the thought occurred that it might have something to do with the toxic atmosphere that surrounds it. Might the bad feeling spilling off the terraces be so malignant, the psychological pressure so intense, that the players become inhibited and lose the ability to play?

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