Even when he’s having a ‘bad’ game, Virgil van Dijk is still Liverpool’s MVP
It seemed impossible that Virgil van Dijk’s reputation could be enhanced any further until he was injured in last season’s Merseyside derby.
After having a transformational effect at Liverpool since his arrival in 2018, the sight of Van Dijk being clotheslined by Jordan Pickford was enough to kickstart a chorus of anguished wailing back at Anfield.
As Liverpool struggled in his absence – moving their best midfielders into defence before seeing their title defence collapse with indecent haste – it became easy to see how somebody like Joan of Arc became canonised after her death.
In short, absence makes the heart grow fonder and achievements are inflated when reality cannot disprove what we’ve come to believe.
Since his return, Van Dijk has marshalled a defence that’s kept four clean sheets in the Premier League and watched from the stands as AC Milan exploited the decision to rest him during their recent Champions League opener.
All this has served to increase the aura surrounding the Netherlands captain – the feeling that half the damage is done the moment opposing attackers see his name on the team sheet and the other half lining up alongside him in the tunnel.
Except Brentford didn’t read that particular script. As Pontus Jansson told Sky Sports after the 3-3 draw: “We have Ivan (Toney) and he had a fight against probably the strongest defender in the world (Van Dijk), and I think he made it good.”
Indeed he did. Liverpool looked vulnerable to Brentford’s crossing and movement all evening long. Viewers with visual impairments could be forgiven they were watching highlights from a Liverpool game in 2017.
But the very best still find ways to redeem themselves and that’s exactly what Van Dijk did in the game’s dying embers.
As the contest became more stretched than the damage limitation team at GB News, Sergi Canos pinged a long ball forwards for Toney to chase.
The Brentford forward looked to be clean through but reckoned without Van Dijk charging back and winning back possession like a distracted picnic-goer swatting aside a wasp.
Klopp was impressed with the newly-promoted side and admitted his Liverpool team ‘struggled’ to cope with Brentford’s style.
“They were very good, but obviously we struggled tonight with their long balls,” Klopp said after the game. “I was not too happy with how we started the game and that’s how we conceded the goal, a little bit. It was a situation where we could have been more organised.”
Brentford managed to make Van Dijk seem almost human, puncturing the aura of invincibility that has grown around the defender.
At the same time, Van Dijk underlined his world-class status with a decisive intervention late in the game.
No wonder Liverpool missed him so badly last year.
By Michael Lee