Football Features

Why everyone is scared of Virgil van Dijk again

By Muhammad Butt

Van Dijk stats

Published: 22:52, 10 March 2022

After a season blighted by injury and a few months of sketchy physical form, it’s safe to say that Virgil van Dijk is back.

That may seem like a strange thing to say as Liverpool suffered their first loss at Anfield for a year against Inter Milan in the Champions League, but every aspect of that match was conditioned by one thing: the Inter forwards being terrified by Van Dijk.

And that’s how you know he’s back, of course, how he’s regained his aura. There were times over the two legs against Inter Milan where Lautaro Martinez, ball at his feet and running at the Liverpool defence, literally saw Van Dijk in his path and rather than attempt to take him on, turned back and gave the ball to a teammate.

Even the goal Liverpool conceded, a stunning strike from Martinez, came because he would have rather taken a pop from range rather than try to step in close and take Van Dijk on. The Dutchman was criticised for standing off the Argentine but even Rio Ferdinand admitted this is a case of “splitting hairs” during BT Sport coverage while on CBS Jamie Carragher had to caveat his own analysis with: “I must say, the rest of Van Dijk’s game was unbelievable.”


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After a recent win against Burnley, Jurgen Klopp began gushing about his defensive stud. “Definitely, definitely, you can see it in all movements and everything,” said Klopp when asked if Van Dijk was back to his best. “We were always convinced that it would happen.”

“He is completely back on track. He is absolutely at his best again.”

Time will tell if Van Dijk is truly back to his best, because his peak levels in 2018/19 and 2019/20 were some of the highest quality defending we’ve seen since the days of Nesta, Ferdinand, Terry, Carvalho and Vidic.

In fact, besides Diego Godín, Gerard Piqué and Raphael Varane, it’s hard to think of a defender who has been more influential over the last decade of football (in terms of their defensive prowess, anyway; obviously Sergio Ramos has defined the last 10 years of the game as much as anyone but his greatest exploits are actually attacking ones).

The sheer scale of Van Dijk’s dominance comes to the fore when you look at certain metrics. Of the 606 outfield players that have played 1,000+ minutes since Virgil van Dijk made his Premier League debut for Liverpool, only three players have above 70% in duel and aerial duel success rate: Van Dijk, Phil Jones and Raphael Varane.

Virgil van Dijk stats

In addition to their greater-than 70% duels and aerial duels success, Van Dijk and Jones have also recorded a true tackle success rate of 70% or higher (Varane’s is a nice 69%). True tackle success measures how often a defender wins a tackle vs. conceding a foul or getting dribbled by. And Van Dijk is truly masterful in this area, winning more than 70.63% of his tackles.

What makes this so absurd, so utterly beyond the realms of normality, is that Varane and Jones have both (for different reasons) played under 2,000 minutes of Premier League football; Van Dijk has maintained that incredible standard over 10,686 minutes. That’s a big number, so here’s another way of looking at it: 10,686 minutes is approximately one week. Like, the whole week, every single second of a single week playing football and winning more than 70% of all the tackles you get into.

And if he’s not tackling you, he’s devastating you with zero contact. Along with the Liverpool back line, Van Dijk has, since debuting, triggered 130 successful offside traps. That’s 49 more than the next best player, Conor Coady (81).


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What’s more, even if an opponent has gotten away from the Reds’ defence, it’s usually Van Dijk who appears with a late intervention to save the day. In fact only Conor Coady has made more “last-man tackles” than Van Dijk’s four.

He’s also never lost a Premier League home game, going 60 unbeaten at Anfield since his debut, which is a record for a single club.

The numbers are quite simply devastating, and illustrate the Dutchman’s dominance since he joined Liverpool. Van Dijk’s presence and aura was such that his arrival drove the Reds forward to their first Champions League final in over a decade less than six months into his time at Anfield. In his first full season they went back to the Champions League final, this time coming away victorious. Then in his second full season the Reds ended their 30-year wait for a Premier League title, clinching it in dominant fashion.

His fourth season as a Red ended early after a shocking challenge from Jordan Pickford put him out. So 2021/22 will be his fifth season with the club but only his third one played to completion; and remember, the last two times he did that, he came away with major honours.

This season Liverpool are chasing a ‘quadruple’. They’ve already secured the EFL Cup (the final of which earned Van Dijk Man of the Match) and are still in the hunt to win the classic treble of Premier League, FA Cup and Champions League. With Van Dijk back to his best, terrifying opponents all across the continent and ensuring Liverpool have one of the very best defences on Planet Earth, would you bet against them?

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