It has proved to be a watershed moment in Liverpool’s season. It was widely recognised that the Reds needed defensive reinforcements and one came in the form of £75 million Virgil Van Dijk in January. To date, the Dutch defender has lived up to his billing, transforming the Reds’ backline in a very short space of time.
Not only has Van Dijk impressed over the past few months, he has improved others around him. Dejan Lovren was a weak point before the arrival of the Dutchman in the January transfer window, but the Belgian has since formed something of a relationship with Van Dijk. He no longer looks to be so vulnerable.
This weekend’s Champions League final will prove to be a real litmus test of the defensive improvement Liverpool have made of late. Van Dijk has been open about the task he faces against Real Madrid in Kiev, with the former Celtic and Southampton centre back set to go toe-to-toe with competition top scorer Cristiano Ronaldo. No pressure.
“He [Ronaldo] has been scoring goals for fun over the last few years and he has a lot of quality obviously,” Van Dijk said in an interview this week. “He is one of the best players in the world at the moment but I need to deal with him like the rest of the team needs to deal with their other players, who have a lot of quality too. We need to be ready but that’s part of the game.
“They will be aware of our team as well. It’s going to be a very good game, both teams have a lot of quality. I’m looking forward to it but the most important thing for us as a team, as Liverpool, we need to look at ourselves and play our game rather than doing different things.”
Across the board, Liverpool have upped their game at the back in the second half of the season. Loris Karius is no longer the blunder in-waiting he was earlier on in the campaign, teenager Trent Alexander-Arnold has made the right back position his own, while Andy Robertson has become a valuable part of the Reds’ attacking supply line. It’s not just Lovren and Van Dijk.