The signing of Virgil van Dijk was regarded as an extortionately overpriced deal when he arrived at Anfield from Southampton in January, but fast-forward just ten months and there’s no doubt that he has firmly silenced his doubters.
At the heart of Jurgen Klopp’s defence Van Dijk has been an immovable force; a man mountain; a leader of men. Not only has the Netherlands international been fantastic, individually speaking, he has proven to be a catalyst for the improvement of the players around him.
It’s the sign of a player of indisputable class, and his form in 2018 has earned him esteemed praise from across the media.
However, Chris Sutton may have paid him the highest compliment of his career so far, as the BBC pundit argued that Liverpool’s defensive rock is the third best player in the world after Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo.
Sutton was rich in his praise of Van Dijk and he cited Liverpool’s transformation since he joined the club as justification for his selection.
“It may not be fashionable to mention a defender when you have a conversation like this, but when you look at the difference Virgil van Dijk has made to Liverpool then you can see just how good he is.
“There is not an attribute you need as a defender that he does not have – he is quick, strong, consistent and he does not seem to lose his concentration.
“He also has tremendous distribution when he is on the ball, and he reads the game so well. He has got the lot.
“There will be a clamour for Eden Hazard and other attacking players – and I understand that – but Van Dijk has shown the difference a brilliant defender can make to any side.”
It’s certainly fair to point out that Sutton’s opinion certainly derives from his history with Celtic and the fact Van Dijk kick-started his career during an eye-catching spell with the Hoops.
But take nothing away from Van Dijk – he deserves the credit and Sutton’s justification is certainly based on logical reasoning.
In a world when a lack of tangible information regarding defensive contribution is forcing the humble central defender to be ignored in the awarding of prestigious individual prizes, such as the Ballon d’Or, it is refreshing to see Sutton pointing out Van Dijk as one of the world’s best players during a time when Eden Hazard is being widely touted as the closest contender to challenging Messi and Ronaldo’s supremacy.
What is clear from Van Dijk’s statistics from the season so far is that he is a defender who commands the defensive line and rarely relies on last-ditch tackles or blocks to bail Liverpool out of trouble: an average of just 1.3 tackles per game and 0.8 blocks serves to illuminate that notion.
Perhaps a Liverpool title victory will settle the debate and enable Van Dijk to earn similar praise throughout the media, but until then it’s likely Sutton will remain part of the minority who claim he is better than Hazard.
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