Few central defenders keep Robert Lewandowski completely quiet. There’s even fewer who do it in the manner in which Virgil van Dijk did on Wednesday.
Rio Ferdinand may think otherwise, but the evidence has become compelling, Van Dijk is the best central defender in world football. The giant Dutchman is yet to put a foot wrong since arriving at Anfield for a world-record fee.
Plenty raised their eyebrows when Liverpool paid £75 million for his services, questioning whether he was actually good enough to warrant such a fee. The doubts were raised as a result of his nondescript performances for Southampton in the months leading up to the move.Those doubts have been washed away in the year in between. Nobody now questions whether Van Dijk is worthy of being the world’s most expensive defender. In fact, most believe that the price was far too low. £75 million looks like one of the bargains of the century. The fact that few would question that statement is evidence of how good Van Dijk has become.
His display in the Allianz Arena was one that only an elite level centre back could put on. Van Dijk was dominant. He not only kept Lewandowski quiet but Bayern as a whole. He was the cause of them being limited to just two shots on target.
Even for that goal, the Dutchman was inches away from intercepting and ending the chance. For 99% of the game, Bayern could not find a way past him. If they played it on the floor, he would clear it. If they played it in the air, he would also clear it. Whatever Bayern tried, Van Dijk would sweep it away effortlessly.It was a testament how good Van Dijk was that the one time they managed to find a way around him, the ball ended up in the back of the Liverpool net.
He is not just a defender, though. After holding Bayern at arm’s length he strode out of defence, spraying the kind of passes that the world’s best midfielders would be proud of. When Liverpool needed it, Van Dijk was calm and composed and kept possession with ease. Then he went up the other end to finish off the tie. Setting up the first goal would have been an added bonus in itself. Master defenders such as Ronald Koeman would have been proud of the ball that set up Sadio Mane. Smashing home the second, and crucial goal, took his display to another level entirely.
That header was the perfect metaphor for what Van Dijk has become. He towered above everyone else, and he did so effortlessly.
Van Dijk’s power goes beyond his technical abilities, though. The Dutchman is talented, but it’s the effect he’s had on his Liverpool teammates that Jurgen Klopp will treasure most. Every winning team in history has a leader, a player that demands more from everyone around him. Van Dijk is that man in this squad.
Watch him in every game, and you will see him continually directing and demanding more. He has set the standard, and he expects his teammates to reach it. If they do not, or slip up at any point, he makes them aware of it.
It is his influence that has dragged Liverpool so far forwards this season. Without him marshalling and dominating the defence, they would not have conceded a mere 17 goals. That’s 17 fewer than at this stage last season. Alisson Becker also deserves credit on that front, but most agree Van Dijk has been the major contributing factor.
In fact, most would agree that Liverpool’s overall improvement this season has been built around Van Dijk. He is the foundation of this team and what Klopp has now developed the team around him. It’s easy to imagine that without him, things may begin to crumble. What most don’t seem to agree on is his world-class status. Some will argue he is not yet at that level. Others, like Ferdinand, will claim he has to win trophies to be considered as such.
If Van Dijk continues to perform as he is, those trophies will be forthcoming, either with Liverpool or a club that can deliver them for him. His display against Bayern Munich showed he’s ready to become the world’s best defender. It won’t be long before there is no argument against his claim to the crown.
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