At the end of the day, you can’t argue with the numbers.
Since arriving at Liverpool in a blockbuster £75m record deal just over a year ago, Virgil Van Dijk has turned out in red 35 times in the league. In those matches, his side have kept 17 clean sheets and conceded a grand total of 20 goals. In that stretch, there were only four occasions in which the Reds gave up more than one goal in a game.
For comparison’s sake, we could delve into some into some of the defensive stats that characterized Liverpool sides in the few seasons prior to the Dutchman’s arrival on Merseyside, but that would just make everyone sad. Instead, let’s just say that the 0.57 goals/game the Reds have conceded in the league since Van Dijk’s arrival as compared to the average of 1.36 goals/game conceded in the four seasons pre-Van Dijk tells the entire story.
Those of you with your TI-83 calculators handy would be able to conclude that Virgil Van Dijk has played a major part in making Liverpool more than twice as good defensively than they have been since the heyday of the best Rafa Benitez sides.
Tasked with breaching the now league-best defense when his side host the unbeaten Reds on Saturday, Brighton Hove & Albion boss, Chris Hughton placed the 27-year-old in the same category as Premier League legends like Sol Campbell, John Terry and Rio Ferdinand.
“Is [Van Dijk] that level of player? Yes of course, I’ve no doubt he is when you look at the qualities he’s got.
“The other players we’ve mentioned have done it over a long period. If you’re asking me if he’s at their level as a player, then the answer is yes.
“But if you’re talking about an influence on our game and the history they have, then of course they’ve done it for a longer time and he hasn’t.”
“What you have with all the best center-halves, and it’s exactly the same with Van Dijk, is they make things look easier.”
The ex-Southampton player has been at the heart of Jürgen Klopp’s defensive revolution at a club known in recent years for how generously they shipped the goals. Providing the intangible skills of stalwart, vocal leadership at the back and the hard skills that see him top the charts in things like aerial duel win percentage while marshalling the back line to force opposing teams to a league-high 3.6 offsides per game, the seemingly ever-present Van Dijk has already found himself in conversations as the best in the world at his position.
“If you homed in on the job he’s done, the positions he is in, the pace that he shows, the distribution that he has, he looks such a good player, Hughton continued.
“If you look at all the aspects of what you want in a center-half: good in the air, comfortable with the ball at his feet, good enough pace, he has all those qualities.”
“At the moment, he (Van Dijk) is a great role model. He doesn’t miss many games, is good in both boxes and is a top, top all-round player.”