Crisis over! Virgil van Dijk back to his best and a new contract is a must

Virgil van Dijk is still unrivalled among the world’s leading centre-backs, following a magnificent first season as Liverpool captain.

Jordan Henderson and James Milner‘s exits paved the way for Van Dijk to be given the captaincy last summer, in one of the proudest moments of his career.

All eyes were on how the Dutchman would perform with the added pressure – what we saw was a footballer back to his absolute best.

Virgil van Dijk, 2023/24

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Sunday, January 28, 2024: Liverpool's captain Virgil van Dijk celebrates after scoring the fourth goal during the FA Cup 4th Round match between Liverpool FC and Norwich City FC at Anfield. Liverpool won 5-2. (Photo by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

Started: 45 (All competitions)
On as a substitute: 3
Unused sub: 5
Goals: 4
Assists: 2
Overall Season Rating: 8.71


Peak Van Dijk after a year off

LONDON, ENGLAND - Sunday, February 25, 2024: Virgil van Dijk captain of Liverpool celebrates after the Football League Cup Final match between Chelsea FC and Liverpool FC at Wembley Stadium. (Photo by Peter Powell/Propaganda)

Van Dijk’s performances in 2022/23 were, by his own admission, unsatisfactory.

Like so many, he lacked intensity and errors started creeping into his game, leading some to suggest he had peaked.

Having turned 32 in July, and with an ACL injury in the bank, there was no guarantee that Van Dijk would ever reach the levels we witnessed between 2018 and 2022.

How wrong we were.

In a season riddled with injury problems to other key players, Van Dijk was almost an ever-present in the Premier League, starting 36 out of 38 games.

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Wednesday, January 10, 2024: Liverpool's captain Virgil van Dijk applauds the supporters after the Football League Cup Semi-Final 1st Leg match between Liverpool FC and Fulham FC at Anfield. Liverpool won 2-1. (Photo by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

No Reds player started more times in the league and no player clocked more minutes in all competitions.

While Man City and Arsenal were famed for their level of control in matches, Liverpool’s games were more chaotic and open, meaning they needed their skipper to be near-perfect.

For the vast majority of the campaign, that proved to be the case, with Van Dijk cruising through matches and holding the defence together.

No Liverpool player won more of their aerial duels (81.7%) or a higher percentage of tackles (81.3%);

LONDON, ENGLAND - Sunday, February 4, 2024: Liverpool's manager Jürgen Klopp consoles captain Virgil van Dijk after the FA Premier League match between Arsenal FC and Liverpool FC at the Emirates Stadium. (Photo by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

There was one high-profile cock-up with Alisson at Arsenal, but such incidents can happen to any player, and Van Dijk was as close to faultless as a defender can be for much of 2023/24.

While others around him started to wilt and lose form, the Netherlands captain retained an extremely high level, but there was ultimately only so much one man could do.

In the end, Liverpool ran out of steam and the goals conceded tally racked up, but it was hard to lay much blame at the feet of Van Dijk.


League Cup winner a legendary moment

LONDON, ENGLAND - Sunday, February 25, 2024: Liverpool's captain Virgil van Dijk celebrates with the trophy and the Alan Hardaker Trophy for Man-of-the-Match after the Football League Cup Final match between Chelsea FC and Liverpool FC at Wembley Stadium. Liverpool won 1-0 after extra-time. (Photo by Peter Powell/Propaganda)

If there is one moment that will forever define Van Dijk’s 2023/24 season, it’s the Carabao Cup-winning header against Chelsea.

The Liverpool skipper had already been cruelly robbed of what looked like a winning goal earlier in the game, but he wasn’t to be denied in extra-time.

It was a goal that instantly added to Van Dijk’s legend, as he won the game, celebrated in style and lifted a trophy in his first year as captain.

What shouldn’t be forgotten is how colossal he was in his all-round performance that day at Wembley, though.

With Klopp fielding the likes of Bobby Clark, James McConnell and Jayden Danns, the way Van Dijk marshalled the troops summed up his greatness.

Across 120 minutes of relentless action on the big Wembley pitch, Van Dijk made seven clearances, won seven of his 10 duels and completed more passes than any other player with 92 (91% accuracy).

LONDON, ENGLAND - Sunday, February 25, 2024: Liverpool's captain Virgil van Dijk during the Football League Cup Final match between Chelsea FC and Liverpool FC at Wembley Stadium. (Photo by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

Put simply, Klopp’s final season would have been trophyless without him, and his winner was the cherry on top of yet another defensive masterclass.

The most iconic players produce when it really matters – and no player made a bigger contribution to Klopp’s final trophy win than Van Dijk.


Big Virg as important as ever

BIRMINGHAM, ENGLAND - Monday, May 13, 2024: Liverpool's Jarell Quansah (R) celebrates with team-mates captain Virgil van Dijk (C) and Wataru Endo (L) after scoring the third goal during the FA Premier League match between Aston Villa FC and Liverpool FC at Villa Park. (Photo by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

There are question marks over a number of players this summer, with Luis Diaz and Darwin Nunez not wholly convincing, and Andy Robertson and Mohamed Salah not getting any younger.

When it comes to Van Dijk, however, he remains as vital to the cause as ever.

Naturally, some pundits didn’t include him in their Team of the Season – it gets boring picking him after a while! – but he was again the best centre-back in the Premier League.

At 32, others will naturally begin to start writing his footballing obituary, when in fact, he looks as good as he did when he was 28.

Eventually, a long-term replacement will need to be found, and a new defender is essential this summer with Joel Matip leaving and Ibrahima Konate injury-prone, but Arne Slot will know the importance of Van Dijk from the off.

It could even be that he benefits more from his incoming manager’s less frantic style of play than Klopp’s, leaving him less exposed than before.

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Saturday, May 18, 2024: Liverpool's Virgil van Dijk during the FA Premier League match between Liverpool FC and Wolverhampton Wanderers FC at Anfield. Liverpool won 2-0. (Photo by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

The towering Dutchman appears laid-back about his contract situation, even though his current deal expires next summer, and extending his stay by another two or three years is a no-brainer.

Liverpool’s greatest-ever defender is still at the beginning of his captaincy chapter, and expect plenty more legendary tales to be written before he hangs up his boots.

No Reds player was better in 2023/24.

Best moment: The Carabao Cup-clinching goal.

Worst moment: The mix-up with Alisson at Arsenal.

Role next season: Key starter.