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Talking Tactics

Imperious Van Dijk in a league of his own

Adrian Clarke 13 Apr 2019
Virgil van Dijk, Liverpool

Adrian Clarke says defender's form is a pivotal factor in Liverpool's title challenge

Adrian Clarke is looking at key tactical talking points ahead of Matchweek 34.

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Virgil van Dijk has enjoyed an imperious campaign at the heart of Liverpool's vastly-improved defence.

In 2016/17, Liverpool conceded 42 goals. Last season that number dipped to 38.

In this campaign, with only five matches remaining, Jurgen Klopp's team have only let in 20 goals.

Van Dijk cannot take sole credit for this but his consistent excellence has made a positive impact on those around him.

From an individual standpoint his displays have been the best we have seen from a Premier League centre-back in recent years.

With no obvious flaw to exploit, Premier League forwards have struggled to get the better of him.

Van Dijk's record in duels, both in the air and on the ground, tells its own story.

Top defenders for duels/aerial duels
Defender Duels won Success %
Virgil van Dijk 205 77.1
Harry Maguire 150 72.1
Shane Duffy 193 71.2
Phil Jones 59 70.2
Joel Matip 108 70.1
Defender Aerial duels won Success %
Harry Maguire 99 78.0
Virgil van Dijk 151 76.6
Shane Duffy 157 74.8
Philip Billing 88 74.6
Joel Matip 55 69.6

*Minimum 50 duels won

Van Dijk's fitness and discipline have been as reliable as his form. He has missed only 35 minutes of Liverpool's entire campaign and collected one yellow card.

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  • Virgil van Dijk
    Virgil van Dijk
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Virgil van Dijk Player Profile

On the ball he is also Liverpool's best passer.

Although Georginio Wijnaldum has a slightly better accuracy rate, with 91 per cent to Van Dijk's 89.7, midfielder Wijnaldum attempts far fewer raking long passes.

Goal maker

Van Dijk is Liverpool's principal distributor from range. Boasting 63.4 per cent accuracy, he bypasses opponents superbly to set up attacks.

This was shown with his delivery for Sadio Mane's goal at Bayern Munich in the UEFA Champions League.

Predictably, his other defensive stats dwarf those of his fellow Reds defenders too.

Van Dijk has made 178 clearances, with Joel Matip next on 65, while the Dutchman's 17 blocks are 10 more than Matip's next-best total of seven. He has also made 38 interceptions, with Trent Alexander-Arnold next on 29.

Remarkably, not a single opponent has successfully dribbled past Van Dijk in 2018/19.

Players yet to be dribbled past
Player 2018/19 Apps Mins
Virgil van Dijk 33 2935
Sam Vokes 20 914
Vincent Kompany 12 777
Mason Holgate 5 407
Samir Nasri 5 245
Victor Wanyama 7 217

Eden Hazard will surely attempt to break that duck when Chelsea travel to Anfield this Sunday.

But as it stands, from players who have featured for at least 200 minutes, Van Dijk is one of only six to boast this feat.

When you analyse his game time and take his position into account, it is clear that Van Dijk is in a league of his own on that list.

Helping to keep at least five clean sheets alongside three different centre-back partners, he has been absolutely formidable.

If Liverpool can end their Premier League Trophy drought this season, Van Dijk will be one of the main reasons why.

Also in this series

Part 1: Improved service behind Vardy's revival
Part 2: McTominay power giving Man Utd a new dimension
Part 4: Playing Ozil can make Arsenal feel at home

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