The importance of Virgil van Dijk, and why he can end the Ballon d’Or defensive hoodoo

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By James Miller – @JimmyMiller2608

Liverpool centre back Virgil van Dijk is heavily fancied by many fans across to pip Lionel Messi to this year’s Ballon d’Or award.

After helping guide the Reds to an historic points tally for a side missing out on the Premier League trophy, whilst also being a major factor in a sixth Champions League triumph for the club, he has now been placed at 4/6 odds with SkyBet to receive the prestigious accolade at the end of 2019.

Upon the Dutch defender’s arrival on Merseyside, many questioned what seemed to be an astronomical fee, evening mocking him and the club for it. If anything, van Dijk has simply inflated the prices of high-quality defenders because of his fine performances at the heart of the Liverpool defence.

It has been nothing short of mesmerising to see the contrast in Jürgen Klopp’s back line since the colossus centre back made his debut for the club.

In Virgil’s first full season – 2018/19 – Liverpool’s defence was nothing short of spectacular. Klopp’s men were able to turn doubters into believers with help from the former Southampton man, recording the best defensive record in the league with a meagre 22 goals conceded across 38 games.

To put that into context, in 2017/18 – in which van Dijk only featuring partially after joining the club in January – the Reds recorded only the joint-fourth best defensive record alongside Chelsea. Both clubs conceded 38 goals throughout the season, only one less than Burnley.

There are, of course, other things to consider, such as the signing of Alisson Becker in goal. However, the confidence van Dijk appears to instil in the players around him is there for all to see, something that has to be admired.

Take, for example, Joel Matip – a player that looked a bit out of his depth in the Premier League prior to the domineering Dutchman’s arrival. He now appears to be a completely different player, invigorated with a new lease of life.

Let’s not forget, he now can proudly boast the title of a Champions League winner, even putting in one of the better performances on that night in Madrid.

Another thing to be thought of is that fact that having joined in January, by May he was appearing in a Champions League final. It was one of three finals he has featured in for club and country since stepping up to join the Reds, along with this season’s final in the competition and also an international final in the Nations League with the Netherlands.

Sadly, his country narrowly missed out on what would have been his second trophy inside a month, but surely it highlights the importance of the 27-year-old to whatever team he represents.

In the space of just over a year, Virgil van Dijk has turned critics into admirers, broadcasting his remarkable capabilities. In the whole of the last Premier League campaign, no player was successful in dribbling past him as he showed not only positional awareness, but also the pace and power to tame the best attacking players in the world.

Strangely, he was also recorded as Liverpool’s fastest player in the Champions League, for his recovering run at the Nou Camp from a corner in the 91st minute to help keep the Reds in a tie which they ultimately won – remarkable.

Having already secured the PFA Player of the Year crown, can he go one step further and become the first defender to win the Ballon d’Or since Fabio Cannavaro in 2006?

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