Jack Hallows looks back on the last year at Liverpool Football Club, focussing on the colossal impact that our no.4 Virgil van Dijk has made.
A colossal transformation brought about by the signing of a colossus of a player.
Jürgen Klopp and Michael Edwards have made some world-class signings during their time together at Liverpool Football Club with the likes of Alisson Becker, Andy Robertson and of course, the mercurial Mohamed Salah products of our scouting team.
However, none have been quite as impressive as our Dutch centre half Virgil van Dijk.
There was once a time in football where there was nothing sexy about being a central defender. You were there to clatter people, head the ball away and make blocks where you could but that was that.
You didn’t have to be able to stride around the pitch with the ball at your feet, ping 40 yard cross field diagonals and create as much havoc in the opposition box as you prevent in your own.
For Van Dijk however, being a central defender means so much more than simply being able to time a slide tackle.
Having the colossal Dutch centre half at the heart of Liverpool’s defence is almost like having a second holding midfielder such is his confidence and ability both on and off the ball.
The former Southampton man is equally capable of beating his man as he is dispossessing him, while his passing range, pace, strength and leadership qualities are practically second to none in the Premier League right now.
It’s telling that, since the Dutchman joined Liverpool, their defensive record has only continued on an upwards curve, peaking of course this season with the additions of Alisson Becker in net and Joe Gomez as Van Dijk’s main centre back partner.
In the 50 games that Van Dijk has played for Liverpool across all competitions, the club have kept a clean sheet in 24 (a record of almost a clean sheet every second game), been defeated in just 10 (they’ve won 33 and drawn 7) and went on an incredible 918 minute run without conceding a Premier League goal at Anfield last season.
Not only that, even when they did concede, they were only behind for a grand total of three minutes all calendar year at home, allowing the opposition first blood on just a single occasion against Arsenal. Even on that occasion it didn’t matter, with the Reds battering Unai Emery’s men 5-1.
For Virgil himself, the stats are even more impressive and make the £75m that Liverpool shelled out on him last January look just as much a bargain as the £8m price tag on Andy Robertson or £13m on Xherdan Shaqiri.
The Dutchman has completed over 3600 passes in his 50 matches for Liverpool with an 88% success rate, has won 71% of his duels (tackles and aerial) and leads the way for defensive actions with 272 clearances, 59 interceptions and 21 blocks.
While defenders aren’t expected to contribute to goals on as frequent a basis as their forward-thinking team mates, Van Dijk has scored twice for the Reds and assisted a further two goals.
While the no.4 could definitely improve on his current strike rate, all his goal contributions have come when the Reds needed them most – not least that winner against Everton on his Liverpool debut!
You’ve got to be an incredibly special player to make £75m look that much of a steal.
Moving away from stats, you just have to look at the results and the way the rest of the defence has responded to Van Dijk’s presence to see just how good this man is.
It’s no surprise that he’s been given the arm band on days where Henderson and Milner are relegated to the bench or missing and personally, I could see him becoming the full-time skipper at the start of the 2019/20 season.
The Reds have evolved from a side that have to score 3 goals to win a game to being a side who more often than not, as soon as they score the first goal, the game is over and the three points are Liverpool’s.
During the course of Liverpool’s 2016/17 and 2017/18 campaigns, Klopp’s men had a grand total of four 1-0 victories.
They’ve already equalled that entire total this campaign.
For some, this would suggest a lack of goalscoring prowess in comparison to previous years but the more measured approach is to realise that this simply means that our players and manager are now confident with single goal leads. Score one and in their minds the’ve already won the game.
This is a supreme shift in mentality on previous years whereby the Reds would score one and you’d never feel quite safe. The attitude was always “right, now go grab a second and maybe a third just to be safe,” and while that can be an admirable, swash-buckling way to approach things, it often saw the Reds ship two, three, even four goals regularly.
While this hasn’t been down solely to just Van Dijk, it’s no coincidence that this upturn in confidence and determination has come alongside the Dutchman’s signing.
Having just come off the back of winning a place in UEFA’s Team of the Year and the Premier League Player of the Month award for December – the first defender since Nemanja Vidić to do so – it wouldn’t surprise me if the Dutchman is high on the list of candidates for the PFA Player of the Year award this season.
It would be no less than he deserves.