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Last season, Liverpool finished an almighty 17 points behind eventual champions Manchester City in their pursuit to defend their Premier League trophy.
The season the Reds won the title in 2019/20, the then defending champions, City, ended the campaign 18 points behind Liverpool.
The title-winning difference in these two years: an unrivalled addition of an astute defensive player. First, for Liverpool, it was the arrival of Virgil van Dijk, who catapulted the Merseyside club to a Champions League and a Premier League medal within two seasons.
Then, in 2021, Ruben Dias came in as the long term replacement for Vincent Kompany and within that year, City conquered England once again with another League Cup and Premier League medal.
Now, with Dias City’s main man, Raphael Varane joining Manchester United, and the return of van Dijk for the 2020 champions, can the Dutchman rocket Liverpool back to the title?
Either way, the proof is in the pudding, as the best defensive team in each season of the past two campaigns has won the title.
The importance of this defensive solidity is evidenced further how Liverpool managed to concede just 55 goals in two seasons with van Dijk at the back throughout 2018-2020.
Then, with his injury early in the 2020/21 campaign, the Reds let in 42 across that season, which is just 13 less than they let in across the previous two.
Ahead of the 2021/22 race, there can be no two ways about it: the Reds are back amongst the very best. And, if they can capture the form they showed throughout the two seasons prior to last, they might just be the team to watch, as they registered an extraordinary 196 points within this time – the most of any Premier League team ever across back-to-back seasons.
The Reds, however, will need van Dijk to be just as vital and practically act as a new signing. They’ll need his defensive brilliance each game so that Fabinho can shine in central midfield, rather than in centre-back.
The same will apply for the likes of Sadio Mane, who, when van Dijk got injured, went on to have his worst season for the Reds since his debut campaign on Merseyside.
Liverpool can, no doubt, force a title charge with the Dutch defender returning, as they did so in two out of two seasons with him at the back.
But this defensive reshape isn’t going to be the absolute difference, as players like Mane, Jordan Henderson, Trent Alexander-Arnold and even the great Mohamed Salah must start to put in the numbers that got them to the top back in 2020, not just van Dijk.
Jeonbuk Hyundai M.
Unbeaten 17 of 20
There are no losses for Jeonbuk Hyundai M. in 17 of their most recent 20 games (K League 1)
Al Salt are on a run of 18 consecutive undefeated matches in their domestic league
In their last 18 games in 2. Division, Sotra SK have recorded only 3 wins
CD San José have lost their last 12 league games
Over 2.5 goals 7
In Kongsvinger’s last 7 2. Division games have been scored over 2.5 goals
River Plate have succeeded in winning at both half time and full time in their 6 most recent Copa Argentina clashes
FK Silas have achieved a run of 6 straight wins in 1 Lyga
In their 4 most recent games of Virsliga, FK Liepaja have succeeded in keeping a clean sheet
Shabab Al Urdun
Scored None 3
A goalless streak consisting of 3 matches has marked the Premier League campaign of Shabab Al Urdun
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