Liverpool fans, when they were desperate to peel Virgil van Dijk away from Southampton, dreamed of the kind of positive effect that the Dutchman would have on the Reds’ shaky defense. YouTube video compilations set to “You’ll Never Walk Alone” were carefully crafted. Thousands upon thousands of words were spent rhapsodizing about his commanding presence, his tactical proficiency, his fearlessness.
And then he arrived at Anfield — a bit later than expected, costing a bit more than expected — and something strange and wonderful happened: he exceeded the hype. Virgil van Dijk is one of those rare players that delivered exactly what fans feverishly hoped he would and more.
The evidence is in the Reds’ league home record: a startling nine consecutive clean sheets at Anfield, including the most recent match against Manchester City. The fabled Anfield magic even caused Riyad Mahrez to miss a penalty, the ball sent soaring into the crowd by the collective force of will of the Kop. Liverpool have not conceded at home in the league since February, which is an impressive feat. While van Dijk can’t — and wouldn’t — take all the credit for that great run, he has started every one of those nine matches.
“It’s credit to everyone,” he told Premier League Productions. “Anfield is obviously a very difficult place to come for every team.
“As defenders – and everyone in the team – we try to keep a clean sheet because we know if we do that we have a big chance to win the game.
“We always get opportunities, we’ll always be dangerous in front of goal and we’ll always create chances. So we know if we keep a clean sheet we have a big chance to win.”
“How we defend all together, how we press together – it starts up front – we can make life difficult for everyone.
“It’s never easy to play through our front three; when you do, you come up against our midfielders, who are always putting pressure on you and never leave you alone. Then you come up against us at the back – and we have an outstanding goalkeeper as well, which helps a lot.”
The Reds will go for lucky number 10 at the end of October when they’ll welcome Cardiff City to Anfield. But before that, they’ll still have a few challenges to face, including Huddersfield away and an important Champions League match against Red Star Belgrade.