Five years ago, Liverpool would have folded up against Newcastle with 15 minutes to go and the title-race right going down the wire with just one game to go.
This time around, it wasn’t to be. For a moment it seemed as though Mohamed Salah’s head injury had taken momentum away. Has this been 2013, that would have been that. The season would have ended there. Liverpool could have lost that game from there, let alone draw.
But the win goes to show how far Liverpool have come under Klopp. Not just in terms of how they play, but mentally too. They kept plugging along. And their leader- Virgil van Dijk, urged Xherdan Shaqiri to take the free-kick.
Perhaps, the Dutchman himself represents something they lacked before he came in. Someone who could stamp an authority onto the side.
And Van Dijk’s orders paid off. Divock Origi headed the ball in, as it went in off Jamaal Lascelles.
Minutes later, Van Dijk was seen organizing the Liverpool wall as Newcastle lined up a free-kick, which clattered off the wall as Salomon Rondon failed with one again.
In the heads of many Reds’ fans, the image of Dwight Gayle making it 3-3 at Selhurst Park back in 2014 would have started replaying when Salah got injured. It would have given them the impression that it was happening again.
But not this time. Liverpool showed heart and desire to get the vital goal which could well win them the league next weekend. It seemed like a breath of fresh air for Liverpool fans, as their joy was very much palpable.
Van Dijk has been the centre of all of that. Playing in a team that has full-backs who have 10 and 11 assists respectively and those who literally bomb forward as if they are wingers, it is tough for two defenders to keep it tight at the back.
Especially looking at how Liverpool were last season, it would have sounded impossible for them to be a side which has full-backs so higher up and despite, have let in only 22 goals this season. That is rare and it deserves a lot of credit.
More than that, Van Dijk has had defenders alongside him who aren’t the best. They had taken a fair share of criticism before Van Dijk came in. But the Dutchman has taken their level up a tier. His presence has elevated everything about Liverpool. Be it terms of how things unfold on the pitch or in terms of how they deal with things mentally.
He has set the foundation for this toughness that this side displays on the pitch and in their heads. Every player needs a player like him to take the side to another level altogether.
But the saddest part is the very fact that its rare to find leaders like Virgil van Dijk these days. Ten years ago, it wasn’t as tough. But today, football has changed. Liverpool have changed. And Virgil van Dijk is a massive reason for why its happening today.