Alphabet Soup: Should VVD be PFA POTY?
Background photo: Ruaraidh Gillies, CC BY-SA 2.0
With four games remaining in their season, Liverpool hold a two-point advantage over Manchester City, who have five to play. In short, even if the Reds run the table, City must drop points for the Merseysiders to finally claim the crown in the Premier League era. Similarly, no guarantees exist in the race for Premier League Player of the Year. Several names have been touted for the biggest individual award in English football but two names stand out. One is a Red and the other a City man. Virgil van Dijk and Raheem Sterling are odds-on favourites to scoop the honour.
After joining the Reds two Januaries past, the Dutch defender became a force to reckon with in the top flight. Goals always turn heads but VVD puts forth a compelling case to be the rare defender recognised as the best player in the game.
It's said goals win games and defence titles. Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp believes. Following a campaign in which Mo Salah threatened 50 goals in all competitions and scored 32 in league play, Klopp focussed more on defending than letting the dogs loose. Salah is just now approaching 20 league goals but Van Dijk's skill, positioning and presence at the back delivered a result in all but one Premier League contest of the 34 played.
His leadership is evident on the pitch. When the Reds went up 2-0 on Chelsea through Salah's worldie from 30 yards out, Chelsea responded by carving up the Anfield rearguard twice, only for Eden Hazard to hit the post on his first shot and scuff the second. That isn't an endorsement of a top defender. The manner in which Van Dijk quickly sorted out his mates is. Chelsea never came close again.\
Reports indicate he leads in the clubhouse too. .With Jordan Henderson not always in the starting lineup, another player who can take charge is more than a luxury. It's necessary to a title run.
Whereas many question whether Henderson possesses the playing skills to match his commanding presence, no doubts exist regarding the 27-year-old centre half. Liverpool opened their campaign last season by conceding three against Watford at Vicarage Road. With Van Dijk marshalling the backline, the Reds were hit for only 20 goals while Alisson Becker kept 17 clean sheets. Van Dijk isn't the sole reason for the team's success but his influence is obvious.
His contribution to the attack is gravy on his meaty defending. The former Southampton defender claims three goals and an assist this campaign.
His disciplinary record doesn't reflect his size or the difficulty opponents face in trying to find their way past. One yellow card. Twelve fouls. No other full-time defender can claim so clean a record.
Comparing him to Sterling can only be done in one manner. Their jobs are diametric, to score and to keep scorers at bay. In the end, the only common measuring stick is their influence on their respective club's success. Pep Guardiola can call on others beside Sterling to deliver goals. Were he to be injured, Leroy Sane would step in to good effect. So too Riyad Mahrez and Bernardo Silva. The same can't be said for Dejan Lovren or Joel Matip. Fabinho did well standing in for missing defenders in an injury crisis, but his inexperience was evident at times.
It's clear that VVD's presence is more critical to Liverpool's title hopes than Sterling's to City. The PFA POTY is presented before season's end. The title may still be up for grabs when the winner is recognised. Therefore, it might be the player's importance to his club's success which decides the matter. In that instance, the award can only go to Van Dijk.