There’s many things that have contributed to Liverpool’s dominance this season.
Jürgen Klopp’s passion and tactical knowledge. Trent Alexander-Arnold’s lung-busting-runs and delivery. Sadio Mané’s movement and goals. Jordan Henderson’s energy and drive. The list goes on.
While every player in the Liverpool squad has contributed to the effort which will soon see them lift their maiden Premier League crown, the signing of Virgil van Dijk in January 2018 has been the main catalyst for the Reds’ success.
Rival fans laughed at the eye-watering £75m acquisition of the Netherlands defender; and with good reason.
Following the sale of Philippe Coutinho to Barcelona, the Merseysiders chose to spend a significant portion of the money received from the deal on a centre back from a mid-table team, who had at times had looked as though he’d been towing a caravan when playing since news of Liverpool’s interest broke.
Two and a half years on, and it’s looking like fairly-good business, eh?
The former Southampton man has performed brilliantly since arriving at Anfield, providing stability, class and composure to the Liverpool backline.
In a modern-day game driven by statistics and figures on chances created, goals-per-game and key-passes made, rarely do world-class defenders receive the recognition they deserve.
For perspective - since the first Ballon d’Or was awarded in 1956, only three defenders have received the honour, an incredible stat when you consider some of the quality defenders that have played the game. But Van Dijk nearly became the fourth, narrowly missing out to Lionel Messi in 2019.
One of the peculiar things about Van Dijk’s success in the Premier League is that he is a very ‘un-British’ defender. The Premier League is a competition renowned for being fast-paced, combative and hard-hitting. Other than their team scoring, nothing gets fans on their feet like a heroic, last-ditch challenge - Van Dijk doesn’t have to make last-ditch challenges, because he’s already cut out the danger before it has developed.
The 28-year-old’s reading of the game is as good as any defender to have played in the Premier League. His questionable dancing to Robin S’ You’ve Got To Show Me Love at the squad’s coronation party is as much movement as Liverpool fans have seen all year from the big man – probably best to keep it that way if that dad-dancing was anything to go by.
Though more than being just a world-class defender, Van Dijk is the foundations of the team’s style of play.
His ability with the ball at his feet is as good as any defender in the league; the width offered by Andy Robertson and Alexander-Arnold would be pointless if Klopp didn’t have a footballing-centre back who he knew he could rely upon to play 40-yard diagonals with pin-point accuracy, and Van Dijk offers exactly that.
Similarly, Liverpool often find themselves playing against teams who are wary of the threat in behind from Mané and Mohamed Salah, so often sit very deep leaving large areas of the pitch open. The Dutchman’s poise and ability mean he’s able to utilise that space and step into midfield when the chances arise.
But perhaps the biggest compliment you can pay the former Celtic man is his influence on those around him. Being a talented individual is one thing, but to have the class and mentality to impact the performances of your teammates is a whole new level.
Since Van Dijk’s arrival, the progression of his centre-back partners Joël Matip and in particular Joe Gomez has been remarkable, with the latter now a regular in the England setup.
Since the Dutchman’s Premier League debut on 22 January 2018, Liverpool have played 84 Premier League fixtures, conceding just 53 goals. When compared to the 84 league games played prior to his debut, the club shipped 95 goals - not far off double the figure conceded since his arrival.
Football is a team game, and each member of the Liverpool squad and backroom staff deserves to enjoy every second of the adulation and praise they are receiving, and will no doubt continue to receive over the coming months. But in Van Dijk they have a genius of a footballer in their ranks who has propelled the club to glory.
The best defender in the Premier League and the best defender in the world.
Source : 90min