How Virgil Van Dijk is Turning Liverpool into a Champion Team
With more than half the season completed, Liverpool is top of the Premier League after a sensational start to the season. We all know that they have a great attacking side, but if it is their defenders, in particular, Van Dijk, who has made the difference this season.
Last season it was all about Mohammed Salah and his partnership with Mane and Firmino up front, as Liverpool netted goals left and right and centre and terrorized opposition defenders.
They were still dropping points and losing important games which meant that they finished outside the top two at the end of the season.
Even in the Champions League last season, during the group stages they conceded quite a few goals such as when they gave up a 3-0 lead against Sevilla.
In the knockouts of the Champions League, they were much more clinical and a big reason for this was that they signed Virgil Van Dijk from Southampton.
Liverpool lost in the Champions League final last season and after a solid transfer window in the summer they have managed to fill in the gaps and strengthen their squad.
This season we haven't seen Liverpool score as many goals as last seasons but their win ratio has improved drastically. A big reason for this is that they are keeping clean sheets and winning games even if they haven't played attractively.
Virgil Van Dijk has led the defence this season with his decisive tackles and physical presence, and he has shut down opposing teams from scoring goals.
Liverpool now are not dropping points against the lower ranked teams this season and it is because they have been solid at the back.
On numerous occasions last season Liverpool were hit on the counter and even if their front three scored, the opposition got back into the game because of a leaky defence.
Van Dijk has changed that this season and has led from the from the back, communicating with the other defenders and making sure that the opposition does not go past them.
His leadership skills have been extremely impressive and the way he guides his teammates and organizes the defence has benefited Liverpool tremendously.
From 2009 to 2017 Liverpool have conceded an average of twelve goals from set pieces per season. In the 2017/2018 season, they only conceded eight goals, and this season they have so far conceded only two goals from set pieces.
Van Dijk has played a majority of the games where opposition set-piece goals have been restricted, which goes to show the improvement in Liverpool's defence with the Dutch man.
He has been composed when Liverpool's box has been attacked with crosses and he puts himself in the right position before an opposition cross is delivered.
Liverpool have also joined Chelsea in holding the record for conceding the least amount of goals up until Christmas, conceding only seven goals this season up until the festive period.
With Liverpool, Van Dijk has 37 clean sheets and has a 73% tackle success rate which shows just how crucial he has been in making Liverpool the front-runners for the title this year.
Last season, before the arrival of Van Dijk, Liverpool had conceded 23 goals in their first 19 games. This season after 19 games, they only conceded seven goals, thus showing the impact of Van Dijk and how he has turned the defence into a well-oiled machine.
This season Van Dijk has the best stats in his team for aerial battles won (97), clearances (123), interceptions (26) and passes (1,920).
Leading in four different categories, Van Dijk is easily Liverpool's best defender and he has been at the club for only a year. If he continues this form and takes his game to another notch, he will turn into the best defender in the world.
Goals will win you games, but remember if you are not able to keep out goals at the other end then you will not win titles. Would Liverpool be able to win the title without his contribution? This question was answered last season.
There is still quite a few games to go in the season, but with Liverpool only in two competition's, in comparison to City who are in four, they can focus on the league and try and ensure that they keep their players, especially Van Dijk, fit.
Credit must go to the manager, Jurgen Klopp, who has realized this season that pretty football itself doesn't win you league's, you also have to win 'ugly' sometimes and for that, you need to have a solid back line.
He has also added Alisson, who is a top class goal keeper and is making match winning saves which were not seen last season.
Salah, Mane, Firminho, Fabinho, Shaqiri and Keita are sensational signings, but Van Dijk and Alisson have to be Klopp's most crucial signings because it has changed Liverpool from just an exciting team to serious contenders in the title race.