Virgil van Dijk’s performances in a Liverpool shirt this season have shown why Jurgen Klopp’s notion in the summer was right. In terms of recruitment at centre-half, Liverpool were adamant; it was van Dijk or no one.
Amid fears of potentially missing out on both Naby Keita and van Dijk, unlike previous years, the Reds didn’t resort to panic-buying, and Jurgen Klopp proved again that his history in the transfer market is no fluke.
The Dutch defender was well worth the wait. Since the Netherlands captain’s arrival, Liverpool have secured eight cleansheets in 15 games but not just that, the Reds have conceded more than one goal on just two occasions. A defensive recipe for success.
The most promising aspect of van Dijk’s start to his Liverpool career is more than just defensive quality. It’s the leadership which has been missing, the propensity to improve the ability of those players around him; Karius and Lovren have benefited massively since the assured Dutchman’s arrival, whilst Robertson and Trent are playing like Bixente Lizarazu and Willy Sagnol.
While many rivals fans may disagree from solely basing their opinions from watching Match of the Day, Liverpool fans can see why our £75million man could soon be regarded as the best centreback in the Premier League. In some ways, van Dijk is displaying signs reminiscent of Vincent Kompany’s performances early on in his Manchester City career, such as the 2011/12 campaign which lead to a Premier League title and Player of the Season award.
In terms of winning duels, van Dijk has won 72.6% of 216 duels across the current season, compared with Kompany’s 67% of 176 in 2011/12. Recoveries are close too with Virgil averaging 5.4 recoveries per game, against Kompany’s 6.1. Finally, while the Belgian makes more tackles, it’s the Liverpool man who dominates in the air, with 113 aerial battles won (74.3% of a total of 152) in contrast to 30 (71.4%) of a total of 42 duels for the 2011/12 Player of the Season.
While the stats are promising for Liverpool fans, numbers can only tell part of a story. The execution is more important, in particular how easy the world’s best defenders can make football and the art of defending look. Similarly to Godin at Atletico Madrid and Chiellini at Juventus, Virgil van Dijk has a presence an aura of dominance which has been lacking in the Liverpool defence since the partnership of Sami Hyypia and Jamie Carragher.
Jurgen Klopp has set a precedent with the acquisition of van Dijk, and, should the Netherlands captain’s progression continue, there’s no reason why he can’t be instrumental in Liverpool’s quest for the Premier League title. This is the type of quality that the Reds require.
Klopp’s management, especially in regards to player development and recruitment has been a catalyst for glowing, exponential growth in which Liverpool can finally be contenders amongst any competition.
Virgil van Dijk’s arrival has shined a light on the limitless potential that the team has, but, while it’s exciting to imagine the possibilities of the future, it’s important to remember that this is the Red’s biggest season since 2013/14 with a real chance of returning the Champions League back home.
Article by Adam Brown – @ScouseAdamMV
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