There is no questioning that Virgil van Dijk is in unrivalled territory when ranking the globe’s best and most dominant central defenders and his infectious and irresistible approach is unsurprisingly having an effect on his teammates.
Van Dijk plays the game as if he is never afraid of losing control. His nonchalance on the ball is hugely risky but even more rewarding. If you can get it right you can appear untouchable and this is why the big Dutchman has been commonly referred to as the footballing equivalent of a Rolls Royce.
It’s to no surprise then that Van Dijk’s central defensive partner and Liverpool padawan Joe Gomez is going to look to incorporate similar qualities into his own game that the UEFA Player of the Year utilises on a weekly basis.
Following Liverpool’s 2-1 victory against Bournemouth at the weekend, this was increasingly apparent. Gomez had a difficult afternoon and embodied Van Dijk’s effortless approach but in the wrong way.
Similarly to how Troy Deeney bullied Dejan Lovren, Callum Wilson targetted Gomez and looked to rattle the 22-year-old and this resulted in the defender being brushed off the ball far too easily for Wilson’s opener.
Even more discouraging was Gomez’s individual stats following a tough 90 minutes for the former Charlton Athletic youngster. The Englishman only won half of his six-headed duels all game and gave away the ball 11 times in the first half.
With Atletico Madrid and Diego Costa in town for Liverpool’s do-or-die Champions League bout tonight at Anfield, Gomez – who cost the Reds £3.5m [BBC Sport] – will quickly have to abandon these traits if the Reds are to triumph.
He will need to break away from the laid back approach that got Gomez in trouble against the Cherries and must become more bullish and streetwise if he isn’t to fall victim to Costa’s notorious antics.
It’s a footballing cliche, but Gomez will need to let his opposite number know he is there from the start if Liverpool are to prevail. Van Dijk has mastered the ability to show aggression while remaining a calm and collected figure and this is something that Gomez must incorporate into his game.