When Virgil van Dijk moved from the South Coast to Merseyside, the highly-rated Dutch international was labelled as the most expensive defender in the world as this move cost £75m to Liverpool in total. He managed to make an instant impact on his debut for the Reds against Everton, adding one to the scoresheet, and has made a massive contribution to Jurgen Klopp’s side since his first day at Anfield. In this tactical analysis based on statistics, we aim to take a look at his abilities and impact on Liverpool’s defensive performance.
Liverpool had an awful defensive performance – with 50 goals conceded – even when they were so close to winning the first Premier League title back in 2014 under Brendan Rodgers. After Jurgen Klopp, defensive problems remained for a while especially in terms of individual errors that resulted in awkward goals but it was possible to see some improvements with the signing of Virgil van Dijk from Southampton. It goes without saying that he did not change Liverpool’s defensive structure and performance single-handedly but he made an outstanding contribution to the team’s collective defending and this led to a great team performance especially at their home, Anfield. Before his introduction, Liverpool had played 24 games in the Premier League and they had conceded 1.2 goals on average per game. After Virgil van Dijk, they managed to improve and they conceded 0.7 goals on average. Let’s see a comparison of Liverpool’s central defenders from last season using Squawka Comparison Matrix :
As we can see, he played fewer games than the other three central defenders but his stats are better than all of them in most cases. His size is one of the most important assets and this is very well reflected above as he has the best duels stats by far. He is among the most talented defenders in the Premier League thanks to his technical skills and he has an eye-catching passing rate. It means he helps the team play out from the back more efficiently. His calmness, ability on the ball, extraordinary duel winning in the air and his leadership has transformed Liverpool’s error-prone defence into a solid, accomplished defensive unit. The only game of real disappointment last season for Van Dijk would’ve been the Champions League final against Real Madrid.
Jurgen Klopp’s side started the season perfectly, having scored 9 goals and conceded just one. Their back four is different from last season as Joe Gomez now plays as a centre-back alongside Virgil van Dijk. The Dutchman’s commanding and vocal approach help everyone involved in Liverpool’s defence but it’s an obvious fact that Gomez is not as experienced as Virgil van Dijk and this leads opposing teams to try to single out Gomez as the weak link in Liverpool’s defence. However, this new partnership at the back – also with the arrival of Alisson Becker – works well for the Reds as they kept 3 successive clean sheets at the start of the season. What’s more, this is the best start to a season since 1990-91 for the Liverpool side as they came out on top in 4 games and won all the 12 points. Maybe it’s time to knock Manchester City off their perch.
A New Leader
The 27-year-old Dutch international is the first complete defender who can be a leader at the back after Jamie Carragher. On the pitch, things get better and worse in the blink of an eye especially when you have to defend against the best attackers in the world. You have to stay focused and do your bit in any circumstance. It is very important for a top side to have a leader who can do everything for his team on and off the pitch. It is possible to comment that before he came in, Liverpool had lacked this type of an enthusiastic leader at the heart of defence who could lead his team all the way to glory. The ambitious defender likes commanding and vocal approach and he is calm, strong and confident at the back. Virgil van Dijk could be a Liverpool hero for years as long as he can perform like this.