12 Months After Signing, Is Virgil Van Dijk The Final Piece Of Liverpool's Premier League Title Puzzle?
Virgil Van Dijk is marking his one-year anniversary as a Liverpool player with his side top of the Premier League tree going into the New Year.
12 months ago today, Liverpool finally got their man, six months after making an illegal approach for the Dutchman and purportedly ‘ending all interest’ in the then-Southampton centre-half.
An autumn, half-a-winter, and £75million later, Van Dijk became the most expensive defender in the history of football. Van Dijk’s fee remains £23million more than the next on the list, Manchester City’s perpetually injured Benjamin Mendy. That’s one whole Phil Jones worth of difference.
A look back on some of the reactions collected by BBC Sport at the time showed how astonishing the fee to bring yet another player from Saints to Anfield was.
“Van Dijk is a good player, yes, but for £75m? No, he's not worth it at all.”
That’s Alan Shearer there. Talking to Radio Five Live after the deal was made.
Fans echoed the Newcastle United legend and respected television pundit;
“£75m for Van Dijk? Football has officially gone mad; that's one Gareth Bale or two Mohamed Salah's or 315 Luke Chadwicks” / Just got to say... £75m... really?! / “Liverpool signing Virgil van Dijk for £75m tells us something is wrong with modern football. Amazed, gutted, pathetic”
were just some of the collected responses in the aftermath of the stunning move.
What a difference a year makes. Liverpool are now six points clear of their nearest title challengers, Manchester City and Tottenham Hotspur.
The bookies have finally made them odds on favourites to win the Premier League with the Reds hoping to end a near-three decade long wait for the title. Furthermore, Liverpool centre-back Van Dijk (and no doubt future captain) is favourite (Evens – betfair) in the running to become the PFA Premier League Player of the Year, following teammate Mohamed Salah’s 2017/18 win, in what would be back-to-back accolades for players from the club since Kenny Dalglish and Ian Rush in 1982/83, 83/84.
Gobsmackingly, with his move last year Van Dijk became the sixth Southampton player signed by Liverpool since 2014. The other collective are Sadio Mane (£34m), Adam Lallana (£25m), Dejan Lovren (£20m), Nathaniel Clyne (£12.5m) and Rickie Lambert (£5m). That’s a cumulative total cost of £171.5m that Liverpool have showered on the south-coast club in pursuit of the title.
Despite the fanfare from his arrival on Merseyside Virgil Van Dijk would have to wait until 22nd January 2018, a good three weeks after initially signing, to make his Premier League debut for the Reds, although it’s a match he won’t look fondly upon; a 1-0 loss to Swansea City. The following match against Huddersfield, the £75million man was to be found on the bench. Liverpool won 3-0.
Since then, however, his effect on Jurgen Klopp’s side has been nothing short of remarkable.
In the second half of last season, Van Dijk’s presence after moving north helped Liverpool obtain seven clean-sheets in 14 matches, a shutout rate of 50%.
Prior to his arrival in the 17/18 season, Liverpool had managed nine in 21 matches (42%).
This season, after 19 matches, Liverpool have leaked in just seven goals. By the same point last campaign after the same amount of fixtures they had conceded 23.
21 goals conceded in the first half of 2017 (19 fixtures) meant Liverpool recorded 44 goals in the Premier League calendar year from 38 games up until this point last year (1.16 goals per game).
In 2018, 14 from the tail end of the last season (17 fixtures) and the seven put past Alisson so far (19 fixtures), that’s just 21 in 36 games for the year (0.58 gpg)
Minus the two games Van Dijk originally missed following his move (Burnley and Man City), where Liverpool conceded four goals, plus the Huddersfield win he was benched for, that’s 17 in 33 games the Dutchman has helped his side record (0.51 gpg).
In 2018/19, positioned in front of summer buy, goalkeeper Alisson - himself temporarily the most expensive player in his position - and flanked by arguably the best full-backs based on form in Andrew Robertson and Trent Alexander-Arnold, Van Dijk is a domineering figure in the imposing new-look Liverpool back line.
So far, Liverpool have kept a remarkable 12 clean sheets out of 19 Premier League matches; four more than joint-second place in the category Manchester City and Chelsea.
Therefore, in the whole of 2018, a Van Dijk-starring Liverpool, that’s 19 Premier League clean sheets in 33 games (57%). In comparison, there were 15 clean sheets in 40 EPL games in 2017 (37.5%) for Jurgen Klopp’s side.
It’s looking increasingly likely, with Van Dijk at the heart of defence, Liverpool are on the road to emulating their North West rivals Manchester United and winning the title for the 20th time.
That is no doubt, £75million well spent.