Virgil van Dijk has been one of the leading players at Liverpool since his arrival in January, quickly settling into the role of leader of Jurgen Klopp‘s defence.
Van Dijk was finally signed in the winter transfer window after a protracted transfer saga which began at the beginning of last summer.
Liverpool even went as far as issuing a public apology after his former club Southampton threatened to report them to the Premier League for ‘tapping up’.
Had Liverpool gone about their business differently he may have arrived before the season started, but they were made to wait until January.
Klopp was determined to wait, rather than looking elsewhere, and in the end was fully justified in doing so.
Virgil van Dijk, Season 2017/18
Started: 22 (All competitions)
On as a substitute: 0
Unused sub: 2
Average TIA Player Rating: 7.18 (Rank: 3rd)
Van Dijk was being talked about around Liverpool a good six months before he eventually arrived at the club.
Klopp eventually got his man in January, forking out a transfer fee of £75 million —a world record outlay for a defender.
The Dutchman’s season therefore began before he’d even donned the red shirt, and this only increased the pressure on him when he finally arrived. Seemingly though it hasn’t faze him; often looking the epitome of calm in defence, almost too relaxed on the eye at times.
Klopp showed faith in Van Dijk’s temperament by handing him his debut in the cauldron that is the Merseyside derby, and he took it in his stride, as he has everything since.
He looks born for the type of moments the club hope to experience more of in the future, and with him marshalling the back line they’ll have every chance of improving on the season just gone.
Stood in the tunnel as the two sets of players lined up ahead of the Champions League final he looked head-and-shoulders above everyone else, both physically and in terms of the confidence he exudes.
He is revelling the bigger stage and wants to drive the club on to even bigger things in the future.
Lifting Those Around Him
Van Dijk’s influence has spread across the back four and though some have rightly pointed out that the defence has improved across the whole season, the new arrival added some much-needed leadership and game intelligence at the back.
His centre-back partner Dejan Lovren has commented on how he has influenced the back line since his arrival.
“It’s always good to receive quality and Virgil definitely has that, he helped the team to improve defensively,” said Lovren.
“He brings this calmness into the team; I feel also personally much more confident when you have a really good partner next to you.”
This has spread to the full-backs, and the back four of Trent Alexander-Arnold, Lovren, Van Dijk and Andy Robertson all looked the part in the final months of the season.
He was also a big part in Loris Karius‘ improvement later in the season, indicating early on what he wants the goalkeeper to do and when; creating a better understanding which made it easier for the German to make decisions.
Improvements & Future Role
Though he has scored one goal in his five months at the club, there would be the hope that more is to come in this regard.
He is a presence at set-pieces at both ends of the pitch and had one of Liverpool’s best chances in the Champions League final.
It would also be good to see him rifle in a free-kick at some point, as there aren’t many better set-piece sights than a centre-back winding up to hit a bullet of a shot, and Van Dijk has this in his locker.
He is also captain material – especially if Jordan Henderson finds himself on the periphery following the arrivals of Naby Keita, Fabinho and potentially Nabil Fekir. Van Dijk is already one of the main leaders on the pitch, seemingly it’s only a matter of time before the 26-year-old is handed the armband.
Worst Moment: Giving the ball away under pressure from Raheem Sterling in the Champions League quarter-final second leg against Man City.
Role next season: Key player; captain?