Bloody hell, Virgil van Dijk might actually be playing the best football of his career
Disclaimer: I thought Virgil van Dijk was done.
After arriving at Liverpool in January 2018 for £70million, Van Dijk enjoyed a two-and-a-half year-long imperial phase that instantly elevated him into the conversation of best defenders in Premier League history.
Strikers would be neutered by aura alone, standing in the Anfield tunnel with beads of sweat and an overwhelming urge for their mothers as Van Dijk stood alongside them like a Greek statue.
On the pitch, the Netherlands international marshalled Liverpool’s backline with the efficiency of a continental railway, instantly tightening a previously leaky rearguard and helping the Reds achieve immortality at home and in Europe.
But, after being ACL’d by Jordan Pickford, Van Dijk seemed shakier upon his return. His previously impeccable performances suddenly became all-too-human, with lapses creeping into his game.
Of course, the 32-year-old was still the cornerstone of Liverpool’s defence and still one of the best around. But the crown had slipped and brave opponents scented blood.
Obituaries began to be penned. But modern life is nothing if it isn’t reactionary and Van Dijk has been quietly enjoying one of the best seasons of his career.
As Liverpool recorded a yawn-and-stretch 3-0 home victory over Brentford, memorable mainly for Darwin Nunez gamely attempting to score an offside hat-trick, Van Dijk ensured the Reds wouldn’t have to stick their sheets on an eco wash with an impressive piece of athleticism.
In their attempt to record a consolation goal to warm their journey back to London, Brentford swung a corner onto the head of Christian Norgaard, who arrived in the area as if catapulted from Copenhagen to direct the ball toward the Liverpool net.
A goal felt inevitable, arriving with the slight sadness of a deflated souffle to the home fans inside Anfield. But Van Dijk was in the perfect position to avert danger and rescue his team with a dainty flick of his right leg.
The ball was catapulted towards the Irish Sea. The sanctity of Alisson’s net was maintained. Van Dijk smiled and received high-fives from his team-mates.
“He’s [Van Dijk] busier than he’s ever been for Liverpool, competing in more tackles, making more blocks, clearances, and interceptions,” argued Sam Maguire in a recent article for Anfield Watch.
“Sometimes you’ll see a dominant centre-back scale their output and it impacts their success rates. It highlights those who almost cherrypick the duels they’re involved in to ensure they win them.
“Van Dijk doesn’t fall into that category. He’s involving himself in everything possible and coming out on top more often than not. It’s an evolution of his game. Perhaps a byproduct of the new system which sees him more heavily involved defensively.”
This writer, with takes hotter than the surface of the sun, confidently declared that Van Dijk was done to a litany of WhatsApp chats. Monday morning’s breakfast will consist of a large slice of humble pie.
By Michael Lee