Who would have guessed a year ago that Liverpool’s defence would become the strongest facet of Jurgen Klopp’s team? With Liverpool’s attacking three of Mohammed Salah, Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mane struggling to impress as a collective, the backline at Anfield has helped to keep the Reds above water, and at the heart of all of that there’s Virgil van Dijk – of course.
Since the Dutchman came to Liverpool he’s served as the backbone of the team, and with every passing week he has become more and more important. It’s no surprise, then, that pundits like Danny Murphy have suggested that he should be in the running to be named the Player of the Year, owing to his fantastic form.
From the outside, certainly the Dutchman is in with a chance of being named exactly that, but Sky Sports pundit Charlie Nicholas has revealed that there’s still something for him to achieve.
Predicting a good performance from the Reds, he said: ‘Van Dijk missed the first leg, so if people are putting him right in there as the best defender in the world and winning player of the year by a distance then this is the game for him to step up.’
The point here, then, is that van Dijk’s form in England is fantastic, and it’s been very important, but legacies are made by big, individual performances on the grandest stage – and it doesn’t come much bigger than a European tie against Bayern Munich.
They’re one of the best teams in world football, and given the strength of their attack, it’s vital that Liverpool defend well. It’s not that a poor performance would destroy all of van Dijk’s hard work this season, that’s clearly not the case, but a great performance could help to cement his place in this team, and in the foundations of Liverpool’s history more broadly.
Above all else, though, Liverpool just need van Dijk to step up. They look leaky at the back when he doesn’t play, and generally speaking, if he does well, the rest of the team follow suit. Do other players, like Mohammed Salah and Jordan Henderson, also need to do well? Of course, because a good team performance will be required, but van Dijk is such an important member of this team, and if he has an off day, the Reds may struggle to contain the looming Bayern Munich threat – that’s the point that Nicholas is trying to make.