While it may not be recorded as a significant moment in the annals of Liverpool FC’s rich history, there was a moment of genius from Virgil Van Dijk in the fixture against Tottenham in March that should be studied again and again.
First of all, for those who don’t follow Premier League football, let’s set the scene. Liverpool are chasing a first title since 1990, locked in a tit-for-tat battle against Manchester City in one of the most thrilling titles races in recent times.
On 31st March, Liverpool had one of their toughest tests in the run-in, a clash with fellow Big 6 side Tottenham Hotspur. A loss or a draw from Liverpool would have given the advantage back to Pep Guardiola’s relentless Manchester City side. This is a race that will be won on the finest of margins.
With five minutes to go in the Tottenham game, Spurs midfielder Moussa Sissoko broke for a counterattack, creating a two on one situation with Spurs forward Heung-Min Son. Standing in the way of the Spurs mean was Virgil Van Dijk, Liverpool’s colossus central defender.
Quick-thinking could hand Liverpool title
As Sissoko strode forward, Van Dijk simultaneously shut out the passing angle for Son and narrowed the angle for Sissoko to shoot at Liverpool’s goal. It was the type of quick thinking that only the truly great players are able to do, seeing patterns and angles that the rest of us mere mortals do not.
The result was that Sissoko fluffed his shot, straight over the bar and the head of Liverpool’s keeper Allison. Some will point to Sissoko’s lack of composure, but this was a defensive masterclass all created by the Dutch maestro, who never needed to put a tackle in. A few minutes later, Liverpool scored the winner, putting them firmly back in the hot-seat in the Premier League title race.
Van Dijk should be studied by young players and coaches who wish to study the art of the game. He has shown Liverpool fans that he understands the art of defending better than any player at Anfield in a generation. Indeed, some are now saying that Van Dijk is the best defender on the planet.
Van Dijk considered Ballon D’Or contender
If you want to go a little further than that, there is a growing consensus that Van Dijk might just be a serious contender for the Ballon D’Or this year. Online betting site 888sporthave priced him as 13/1 to be the first defender since Fabio Cannavaro to win the highest accolade in soccer. Lionel Messi at 3/5, Cristiano Ronaldo at 7/2, Kylian Mbappé at 7/1 and Neymar at 10/1 are still the favourites, but it just shows how well regarded Van Dijk is to be mentioned in that company.
Indeed, if you study Van Dijk’s performances, you will see that he has that hallmark of a truly great leader – getting the most out of those around him. Liverpool’s young defenders, like Trent-Alexander Arnold, will constantly look to Van Dijk during the game, knowing the Dutchman will show them where to be and when to move.
As with other legendary defenders built in a similar mould, like Franz Beckenbauer and Franco Baresi, Van Dijk is capable of a putting in a thunderous tackle, but he also knows that is the last resort. Positioning is the key difference between a good central defender and a great one. Van Dijk is certainly the latter, and he should be an example to anyone wanting to learn the game.