The fact that Virgil van Dijk wasn’t dribbled past once last season kind of sums up the supreme quality that the Dutch defender has brought to Liverpool.
The PFA Player of the Year winner has a languid style when tracking runners which makes him appear laidback and somewhat lackadaisical but he consistently gets the better of attackers simply because of his calm and measured approach to the art of defending.
Manager Jurgen Klopp does not solely look at a player’s ability when assessing transfer targets, he is just as keen on finding out about their personalities.
With van Dijk, the fact that he is so unflustered, no matter what scenario you put him in, was likely a key trait the Reds manager saw when considering his pursuit of the defender.
For so many years, under Brendan Rodgers and during the early years of Klopp’s reign, the helter-skelter nature of Liverpool’s attacking play meant the defence had to deal constantly with one-on-one duels with opposing attackers.
If, as a defender, you are not comfortable with this, it leaves you exposed, and consequently leads to more goals being conceded. The likes of Martin Skrtel were shipped out because of this lack composure when faced with these situations.
To play a fast, vibrant attacking game, you will get caught out on the counter-attack, and that means finding defenders who can stay calm to assess threats and have the ability to snuff them out.
In van Dijk, Klopp saw the perfect combination. A towering presence aerially to combat teams who play long balls, the ability to stay calm in difficult situations, and the leadership to help with organising the defence around him.
He waited six months to get his man for £75m, and his insistence on waiting paid off handsomely. Two Champions League finals in a row, as well as the best defensive record in the league last season is evidence of that.
Van Dijk’s ability to assess a threat was perfectly demonstrated in the 2-1 win over Tottenham back in late March when he faced a 2 on 1 situation with Moussa Sissoko. He waited until the last second to commit himself and forced the Frenchman onto his weaker left foot.
The midfielder fired over the bar when for all intents and purposes it should have been a clear cut chance. On 1st June, Liverpool will likely have to call on the Dutchman again to stay calm and help marshall a Reds defence that has become such a solid unit.
The team have come a long way since Klopp’s first European final against Sevilla when the Liverpool backline simply crumbled in the second half, and much of that is down to the Dutch colossus and the Reds manager’s shrewdness for bringing him in.