After the stresses, strains and overall jubilation from Liverpool’s sixth UEFA Champions League victory last Saturday, the Reds have cemented themselves once again into Anfield folklore with another trophy added to their already bulging cabinet. One of which was helped by the presence of a certain Dutchman called Virgil van Dijk. In this player analysis, we will be looking analytically at his performance against Tottenham Hotspur during the Champions League Final in Madrid, with the use of statistics.
There’s no question that a huge part to why Liverpool were in the biggest game in club football in the first place was because of van Dijk, his presence and his consistency in Liverpool’s backline has completely reset any former defensive benchmarks. However, he still had one more game and after his dismay in Kiev 12 months prior to Saturday’s game, van Dijk was a man on a mission, and he was determined to get his hands on the trophy.
The Reds started the game with a line-up that most people could have predicted. Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp opted to stick with the same back four that had done so well for him over the last campaign, with Trent Alexander-Arnold, Joel Matip and Andy Robertson partnering Virgil van Dijk once more. Klopp’s side knew that they had to start well and protect any lead at all costs, so it was important that Liverpool were to keep the ball to avoid any pressure from Spurs’ attacking players in the Reds’ own half.
However, Liverpool couldn’t string two passes together after taking the lead. Surprisingly van Dijk was one of the main culprits in this area, and according to Who Scored, finished the game with a pass success rate of only 72%, which is much lower compared to other games he has played in this season. Typically, he was dominant in the air against a half-fit Harry Kane, winning all three aerial battles against him during their encounters.
His long pass to Sadio Mane against Bayern Munich has been watched over and over by the Liverpool faithful, however on too many occasions during this game he attempted this pass without success. Out of seven long balls that he attempted, only three successfully found the feet of a Liverpool teammate, when on some of those occasions the short pass may have been the better option for him.
Both sides really looked to have been affected by the three-week gap between the end of the Premier League season and the Champions League Final, with neither of them firing at their usual best or firing from all cylinders. Players like van Dijk appeared to be slightly off the pace despite the lack of attacking threat from the opposition.
But Virgil van Dijk does what Virgil van Dijk does best, and this was no exception. With another clean sheet in the bag partnered with Joel Matip, the Dutchman completed one tackle, one blocked shot and five clearances during the match. Clean sheets in a cup final of this magnitude, when the eyes of the globe are upon you, are some of the reasons why there is an argument for the Dutchman to win this year’s prestigious Ballon d’Or.
The Dutchman won’t care however, as he got his hands on the illusive big-eared trophy in the Spanish capital as Liverpool fans sang his famous song long into the night. He ended his Champions League campaign with some truly glowing statistics. Out of 12 appearances in Europe’s premier competition, he scored two goals as well as conjuring up two assists. His passing accuracy was a whopping 86.7% and won an average of almost four aerial battles every single game. A true talisman, and a wonderful example to young players as to how defending should be done.
But the most glowing statistic of them all surfaced not long after the final whistle as the celebrations got underway, there was a moment in the game where Tottenham’s Heung Min-Son broke clear and looked to have got past van Dijk, however a herculean effort from the Dutchman saw him gather some pace and knock the ball away from the feet of the South Korean playmaker for a corner. Opta tweeted that no opposition player had completed a dribble past Virgil van Dijk in any of his last 64 appearances in all competitions for Liverpool. The pinnacle of defending.
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