Stats highlight van Dijk’s importance to Liverpool
You don’t have to be a footballing genius to know that Liverpool have become a much better team since they signed Virgil van Dijk last year. Sure, it cost £75 million to convince Southampton to sell the Dutchman but that is looking like a better price by the week. If van Dijk can help Liverpool win the title, nobody will mention his price tag and, even now, it’s hard to find someone who would claim the defender hasn’t justified his huge fee.
With Liverpool top of the table and van Dijk recently named the Premier League’s Player of the Month for December, it’s not beyond the realms of possibility that the Netherlands international is now one of the best defenders in the world.
With the first half of the season behind us, and the title picture beginning to take shape with Liverpool and Manchester City pulling away from the chasing pack, van Dijk is going to be essential to the club’s hopes of hanging onto their current lead. As we saw recently in Oddschecker’s preview of the Reds’ 5-1 win over Arsenal, punters believe Liverpool can beat any team in the league.
While City did cut the gap with a 2-1 win at the Etihad, Liverpool still have their own future in their hands. And, as Brighton manager Chris Hughton insisted after Liverpool’s 1-0 win, they have a defender who he feels is the best in the world right now.
The stats only highlight just how important van Dijk has been to Liverpool’s form since his arrival 12 months ago. Before the centre back made his debut for the Reds, Liverpool had conceded 1.2 goals per game, keeping a clean sheet in just 32% of their games. Since then, Jurgen Klopp’s men now concede just 0.5 goals a game, with their clean sheet percentage now 57%.
Van Dijk has missed just one match in all competitions this season, playing all but 35 minutes of the club’s Premier League and Champions League campaigns. While the rest of his central defensive colleagues have struggled with injuries, van Dijk has been a virtual ever-present.
The problem for Liverpool will be finding someone who can play alongside their defensive talisman on a consistent basis. Joe Gomez had been establishing himself as van Dijk’s preferred partner before his broken leg, while Dejan Lovren and Joel Matip have both struggled with injuries throughout the season.
With one of the most prolific forward lines in world football and a midfield that does a good job of protecting the defence and supporting the attackers, it’s at the back where people expected Liverpool to struggle. But, with van Dijk in the sort of form he currently is, even in the absence of so many centre-backs, Liverpool still look one of the most solid teams in the league.
While it will likely be Mo Salah, Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mane who get most of the plaudits should Liverpool win the league this season, much of the credit should probably be given to van Dijk.