Is Virgil van Dijk lifting Liverpool and the Netherlands to the top?
Background image: Robert Cutts, CC BY 2.0
When Liverpool paid a record-breaking £75 million transfer fee for a defender, the football world took notice. Jurgen Klopp fielded a team ready to challenge for a Champions League place but the title remained a step too far. The Reds' attack ranked among the best on the continent. Frailties at the back were his Achilles heel. Something drastic had to be done. Spending £75 million qualifies.
The German manager knew where his problem lay and the club was ready to back him. Liverpool needed a top-class defender. They also required a world-class goalkeeper. Alisson Becker arrived later but the first priority was a dominant centre-half. As the saying goes, "a goalkeeper is only as good as his defence.”
Including Mo Salah, Virgil van Dijk is the best thing that has happened to Liverpool in recent times. The Dutchman has been phenomenal playing for club and country in the last year. He moved to Anfield from Southampton in January and made an instant impact in the Merseyside derby. Not only did he help the Reds keep a clean sheet, he also scored.
Since then, he has gone from strength to strength. Although goals are few and far between, no one expects him to provide them in the first place. That's not his responsibility and Salah, Roberto Firmino, Sadio Mane and Xherdan Shaqiri have it covered.
The Dutchman has excelled where there was no cover. He has made Liverpool solid at the back. The Merseysiders are on course to concede fewer goals in the English top flight than any club has. Ever. Opponents celebrations remain well in the single digits at seven.
Dutch football's spiral is common knowledge. In fact, l'Oranje failed to make the last two major tournaments. So, the team's performance in the Nations League surprised.
Pitted against current world champions France and bitter rivals Germany, the Netherlands defeated both to win the group. Van Dijk grabbed an equaliser in Germany to send Ronald Koeman's men to the semifinal. He now has a chance of lifting a trophy with both club and country in the same calendar year. It's a huge transformation in fortunes.
The Reds have had very little success in the past decade when it comes to winning silverware. In fact, they've never won the title in the Premier League era. They've been close in the past but never has it looked so close as it does with Manchester City suddenly faltering.
Van Dijk's composure and calmness at the back could prove the Merseysiders biggest asset in the fight to be crowned champions. Yet, the Dutchman is not content to just defend. He is eager to go forward. That resulted in a goal in the 2-0 win against Wolves before Christmas. After a slow start, the goals are coming for him, too.
Actively contributing to the team's all-around play, the 27-year-old is making his case to be considered the world's best defender. Those who feel otherwise may have a rethink if he continues like this.