Virgil van Dijk is the best defender in the Premier League. He’s arguably the best defender in world football.
The record fee Liverpool paid for the Dutchman’s services already looks cheap enough to make Freddo blush and cover up his 25p price tag.
In short, Van Dijk is a world-class footballer and a worthy recipient of the PFA Player of the Year. That being said, the hype surrounding his every move is getting out of hand.
Everyone who walks planet earth has now seen the clip of Moussa Sissoko bottling a two-on-one in the 85th minute of Liverpool v Spurs due to the defensive majesty of Van Dijk.
Even the remote lands of Ittoqqortoormiit, Greenland, have been abuzz with admiration for Van Dijk’s ability to make Sissoko miss without touching the ball. The 500 residents of Oymyakon, Siberia, have been battling -20° conditions to meet up and discuss Van Dijk’s body shape.
The idea that Van Dijk is the only defender around who would’ve shown Sissoko onto his weaker left foot rather than allow him to pass to a better finisher in Heung-min Son- as certain parts of social media would have you believe- is obviously nonsense.
Sissoko should have scored. That’s not to say it wasn’t a quick piece of thinking by Van Dijk, but the bottom line is Sissoko should have converted from 12 yards, as was the case earlier in the day when Odsonne Edouard netted in the Old Firm derby following a similar passage of play.
Had Gary Neville not explained Van Dijk’s thought process live on air then it may well have gone over most fans’ heads.
As it was, it became the biggest defensive talking point on social media since Van Dijk was ‘owned/sent back to Liverpool/ended/rinsed/ripped’ by Arsenal reject Serge Gnabry during Germany’s win against the Netherlands.
On that occasion, Van Dijk was pulled out to the right-hand side to cover for an absent full-back. He showed Gnabry inside, into the traffic, only for the traffic to evaporate as if the German had a police siren strapped to his head. Gnabry then whistled the best shot he’s ever struck into the top corner.
In both cases the reaction was extreme, yet in both cases Van Dijk’s defending was textbook. Nothing more, nothing less. Just textbook. The fact that one example is held up as to why Van Dijk is the best defender in the world and the other is used to highlight his weaknesses is evidence of the Dutchman’s stature in the game.
When you’re at the top, every decision you make is examined in minute detail by both sides of the tribes. It can never be a case of an elite attacking professional footballer doing his job, as was the case with Gnabry, or getting it wrong, as Sissoko did, albeit under Van Dijk’s influence.
Everything is heightened. Normal passages of play suddenly become career-ending mistakes or Ballon d’Or-winning acts of defiance.
Next time Van Dijk heads a ball, let’s not all rush to crown him the best human being ever to put forehead to football. Next time he’s unable to stop an attacker doing what they’re paid handsomely to do, let’s not rush to use it as a stick with which to beat Liverpool fans.
Let’s just enjoy watching a world-class defender defend, because there’s not many of them around these days.
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