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Defending ugly in the Premier League is sexy again thanks to Virgil van Dijk

Virigl van Dijk's impact at Liverpool has been as brutal as it has been stylish

Only one team has yet to concede a goal in the Premier League.

It’s no coincidence that team also happens to contain the best centre-back in England.

In 16 Premier League appearances Virgil van Dijk has made Liverpool’s decision to pay £75million for his services look a no-brainer.

Little and large

Getty - Contributor
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Little and large

Although fans of neither side will enjoy the comparison, there are shades of Rio Ferdiand’s arrival at Man United in Van Dijk’s burgeoning Liverpool career.

Both players broke the world transfer record for a defender when they moved.

United had to pay Leeds £30mil to sign Ferdiand back in 2002, with the deal eclipsing French full-back Lilian Thuram’s £22.5m move from Parma to Juventus.

Ferdinand immediately went out and spent £1m of the transfer fee on a new suit.

GQ front cover July 2002

News Group Newspapers Ltd
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GQ front cover July 2002

Van Dijk also eclipsed a French full-back with Monaco on his CV when he joined Liverpool, obliterating Benjamin Mendy’s £52m move to Man City.

Both centre-backs were parachuted in to remedy ailing defences, with United desperately searching for an upgrade on Laurent Blanc and Liverpool needing an equally stern injection of class at the back.

Van Dijk’s playing style echoes Ferdinand in the sense that both look like they could thrive in any central area of the pitch wearing a grey shirt and not have to worry about the threat of sweat patches.

Not a drop of sweat in sight

Reuters
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Not a drop of sweat in sight

But Van Dijk isn’t all Hollywood passes and Cruyff turns at the back.

His imperious display against Crystal Palace showed that the Dutchman is more than happy to do the mucky stuff.

Van Dijk won a game-high nine headers while playing against the potentially awkward presence of Christian Benteke.

He also made more clearances, eight, than any other player on the pitch, while maintaining a pass accuracy rate of 92%.

Never a fair fight

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Never a fair fight

Stats can be hollow.

In the dying embers of the game, with Liverpool only one goal to the good, Van Dijk defended a free-kick before heading away the resulting corner to set up a counter-attack which put the match to bed.

It was a scene in which Liverpool had all too often suffered before the arrival of Van Dijk.

Started from Van Dijk now we’re here

AP:Associated Press
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Started from Van Dijk now we’re here

Jurgen Klopp’s side have only conceded ten goals in the 16 league games Van Dijk has played for Liverpool.

Like all the best defenders, Van Dijk raises the levels of those playing around him, especially centre-back partner Joe Gomez.

Gomez, having spent much of his Liverpool career at right-back, has impressed at the start of the season and looks set to be in Gareth Southgate’s next England squad.

The World’s Best Centre-Back™ Dejan Lovren might have gone all the way to the World Cup final with Croatia but at the moment it’s Gomez’s position to lose.

Underrated kit of the season

Getty - Contributor
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Underrated kit of the season

English football has a reputation of being blood and thunder but for too long the Premier League has been a soft touch.

Centre-backs have been valued on their ability to play rather than defend. Those who enjoy the dark arts, think Robert Huth and Wes Morgan, haven’t tended to be the best footballers.

Van Dijk can do both. Playing ugly has never looked so sexy.