It’s hard to believe that central defence was once an area of glaring weakness for Jurgen Klopp and Liverpool.
In truth, it was not too long ago that Liverpool’s back four had the capability of rolling over and getting trampled by the opposition.
A 5-0 defeat to Manchester City and a painful 4-1 mauling by Tottenham Hotspur at Wembley seem a lifetime ago following the immeasurable success that has followed over the past 12 months.
For so long, many have said that one player could not be capable of solving Klopp and Liverpool’s defensive capabilities during the beginning of the 2017/18 season.
However, this notion has been completely blown out of the water since Virgil van Dijk became a Liverpool player in January 2018.
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Since his arrival, Liverpool have gone from possessing a once vulnerable and exposed defensive unit into the finest and sternest back-four currently operating in world football.
Van Dijk has been the hallmark for consistency in this Reds team and his move from Southampton two years ago has proven to be one of the most transformative signings in the club’s history.
It hasn’t mattered who has partnered the big Dutchman throughout his Anfield tenure, performance levels have remained the same.
In light of the latest injury setback to Joel Matip, who is expected to miss the remainder of the season due to a foot injury, it is worth reflecting just how durable and consistent Van Dijk has been, and more importantly how fundamental this has been for his team’s recent success.
In Liverpool’s previous 85 Premier League matches, Van Dijk has missed just two fixtures – both of which came in his initial three matches where he was still recovering from a thigh problem.
He has had three regular central defensive partners in that period with Dejan Lovren, Matip and Joe Gomez each having a sustained run alongside the UEFA Player of the Year.
While there has been regular rotation in Klopp’s defensive quartet, Van Dijk has been the ever-present figure and the spearhead of the team.
Despite signing for a gargantuan fee of £75 million [BBC Sport] in 2018 to shatter the then record fee paid for a defender, Van Dijk’s acquisition now seems like small change.
There is no question that is value has doubled in the time since his move and most Liverpool supporters would even say that now it no longer a question of money more that the player has now become invaluable to the team and no sum of cash would allow fans to even imagine allowing him to ever leave Anfield.
Van Dijk has an effortless ability to make those around him better which is a rare trait to find in a player and is why it is impossible to put into words just how much of an influence the Ballon d’Or runner-up has had on this team.
For two consecutive Premier League seasons, Van Dijk has failed to miss a single fixture – talk about getting your value for money.
Defensively, Liverpool have become a different animal over the past 24 months. Although it may not be fair to say to that Van Dijk has transformed this defence all by himself, it wouldn’t be totally inaccurate either.