Enough has been made recently of Liverpool’s newest acquisition: Virgil Van Dijk. After much uncertainty with Southampton, “VVD” at long last arrived at Anfield last month. But are The Reds truly getting an upgrade at centre-back? The bigger question undoubtedly is: Was he worth the money? Lets find out!
After all of the Jose Mourinho passive-aggressive jabs regarding LFC’s transfer policy, Virgil Van Dijk made his long-awaited Liverpool debut in a 2-1 win over rivals Everton in the FA Cup. A better debut for a player, even Shakespeare himself could not have scripted. VVD scored the match-winner in the “FA Cup version” of the Merseyside derby with a beautifully-place header in the 84th minute.
Pep Guardiola, unlike his counter-part, the mostly foul-mood Mourinho, gave Liverpool far more credit for this record-signing. Pep went on record calling Van Dijk “exceptional” while also saying that the centre-back could prove to be a “bargain” in the long-term.
Examining the numbers however, IS Virgil truly an upgrade over Dejan Lovren, Ragnar Klavan, and Joel Matip? Our friends at Tifo Football did some homework on this subject and discovered some amazing facts.
Tifo compiled a list of the top ten Premier League centre-backs in two categories: accurate long balls per 90 minutes and accurate short balls per 90 minutes, and then combined them. A player also must have played a minimum of five league games. 18 players were generated based on that criteria, as several players appeared in both lists.
Examining all players who made the cut for the combined categories, Van Dijk ranks 18th in long passing accuracy. This places him behind all three main LFC centre-backs. So, in this instance, Liverpool have not upgraded their current personnel. Lets take a look next at the list of short passers.
Virgil Van Dijk improves his ranking significantly in the short passing category. The jump from 18th to 11th shows he is far better at this discipline than as a long passer. What stands out again however, is the fact that he ranks below his Liverpool teammates Matip and Klavan.
What these numbers prove is that in terms of passing, Van Dijk is not an upgrade over any of Liverpool’s main three centre-backs. He is an upgrade in two key areas that we have yet to discuss. Liverpool play a pressing style of football. In order to play football in this fashion it is essential you have the right group of players to carry out the precise instructions. This is where the current group of LFC centre-backs fall short.
What Virgil Van Dijk does is help to cure many of Liverpool’s ailments in defence as it pertains to their pressing. VVD is third among EPL centre-backs in interceptions per 90 (2.6) and first in aerials won per 90 (5.6). His high marks here are not limited to only centre-backs from the passing lists. He ranks third and first respectively in these areas among all EPL centre-backs who have played more than five matches.
These last two categories are where Liverpool desperately needed help, and they got it. Van Dijk’s passing is good, not great. His short passing, the better of the two. Where he is worth every penny spent however, are his instincts, athleticism, and ability to help The Reds tactically. Van Dijk’s overall defensive ability will aid Liverpool immensely and his decent passing skills should certainly not hurt the team.
The critics will be debating for months, perhaps years, whether Virgil Van Dijk, good as he may be, was worth £75 million. Jose Mourinho will probably be talking rubbish about the transaction a decade from now, because, well… that’s Mourinho. Whether you agree with the sum of money spent or not is up to you.
If Virgil solidifies the Liverpool back line and is a key factor in helping Liverpool lift their first league title trophy since 1990, then he was worth every last ounce of cash. That, we can all agree on. (Except Jose Mourinho, of course!)