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Why van Dijk’s injury will make for the most open title race in years

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Widely regarded as the best football league in the world for its competitive nature, the Premier League seems to be heading for a tight finish this year going by the opening few weeks of the season.

Unlike the last three seasons when Manchester City and Liverpool dominated the rest of the teams in the division, it doesn’t seem like any club will be getting close to 100 points in the ongoing campaign.

And a tight league will be welcomed from all quarters because after all, it’s the unexpected nature of the Premier League that makes it so special and different from others where the winners and relegated teams are more often than not a forgone conclusion.

From Leicester City’s fairytale title triumph and Sergio Aguero’s season-ending winner for Manchester City to Steve Bruce’s most iconic goal for Manchester United against Sheffield Wednesday, the Premier League has had more than its fair share of bedlam-inducing moments over the years.

However, as alluded to, the last three campaigns have been rather bland compared to past seasons with a couple of teams quick off the blocks and dominating the rest of the sides to get close to 100 points.

While the rest of the clubs battled for scraps and European spots, Liverpool and City were far ahead of the competition, which somewhat took away from the competitive edge that had become synonymous with the league.

The 2020-21 campaign, though, resembles the Premier League of old, with clubs dropping points and no clear favourites emerging as frontrunners for the title after the first few gameweeks.

City, in fact, fell from grace last season after two campaigns that saw them finish on 100 points and 98 points to win the league. They finished on 81 points last season – 18 points behind Liverpool, who at the start of this campaign were once again expected to blow away the competition.

Three wins from three further added fuel to that notion but a shock 7-2 loss at the hands of Aston Villa went against that script. Still merely considered a blip, the Reds were expected to bounce back and the Goodison derby was thought of as the perfect game to do so.

They eventually drew 2-2 with the Toffees, however, the biggest fallout from the match wasn’t the result but an injury to Virgil van Dijk – Liverpool’s talisman in defence and the man credited with turning the Reds into title winners.

Without the Dutchman, the Reds’ frailties at the back become all the more evident. Lest we forget, Jurgen Klopp’s Reds never really had much trouble finding the back of the net since his appointment by the Merseyside club.

The area where they consistently struggled was keeping the ball out of their own net and with van Dijk ruled out for the foreseeable future with an ACL injury, those issues are likely to surface again before now and the end of the season.

The Dutchman was brought to Liverpool for a then-record fee for a defender and goalkeeper Alisson was also roped in for a record fee for a custodian back then. Together the duo provided the Reds the defensive stability and security to become one of the best clubs in Europe.

Now that they are both on the treatment table – albeit for a relatively shorter period of time in Alisson’s case – Liverpool reaching the heights of last season in the league is hard to imagine.

That’s not to say that they won’t compete for top honours but the manner of their dominance last season will surely not be repeated now. Even though no club wants to see players injured, the latest development will come as a shot in the arm for City and the rest of the clubs hoping to challenge Liverpool.

With all things considered, it’s worth mentioning that Liverpool are still one of the frontrunners to retain their league crown but the fact that van Dijk’s long-term injury blows the title race open cannot be ignored either.

Feature image courtesy: AFP / Peter Byrne

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