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How important is Virgil van Dijk to Liverpool?

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Roy Keane. Michael Jordan. Mark Messier. Tom Brady. Virgil Van Dijk.

Every great team has a great leader driving it on, demanding high levels day in, day out and raising the bar so high than even their incredibly talented teammates get nowhere near reaching it. They may not be the most gifted players technically but there’s something about them, an aura and confidence they exude which makes everyone around them feel unstoppable.

That is what makes them, and their teams, so great.

Virgil van Dijk and this current Liverpool team well and truly slot into that category as he is the driver of one of the greatest teams in sporting history who sit 22 points clear at the top of the table and can win the PL title at the earliest point in history.

The way in which they are calmly but mercifully dismantling every team that comes their way reflects VVD’s relaxed relentlessness. They are on track to go the entire 2019-20 Premier League season unbeaten (24 wins from 25 games so far) while setting records for the most wins and points secured in a single season and are closing in on Arsenal’s record of 49 PL games unbeaten.

Jurgen Klopp‘s entire team deserve praise but Virgil van Dijk deserves the most.

Jordan Henderson is the captain who has taken his game to new levels, Alisson‘s heroics in goal aren’t under-appreciated, two British full backs have developed into world-class talents and the front three speak for themselves. But Van Dijk kicked Klopp’s project onto the next level as soon as he arrived at Anfield.

Don’t be fooled by Van Dijk’s delightful flicks, masterful long-range passes, elegant stride and beautifully cushioned headers. He is not here to chillax. He is at Liverpool to win. If you watch Virgil van Dijk for the first time, it is like watching a U18 player in a U12 league. He is quicker, stronger and smarter than every other player on the pitch.

Perhaps the only other signing in Premier League history to have more of an impact, on the pitch and off it, than Van Dijk is Eric Cantona. There is a relaxation and likeable arrogance about both individuals. Yes, Cantona was out there and still is, but the way his arrival kicked on a very good United team to one which became a dynasty was both subtle and dominant. Van Dijk’s arrival in January 2018 had the same impact at Liverpool.

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Liverpool’s previous laughably shaky defense suddenly had a new leader, one who demanded the best each and every time they stepped out on the pitch. Van Dijk does not suffer fools gladly. He has work way too hard from Groningen to Celtic and then to Southampton to get to this point and not make the most of it.

Since he arrived at Liverpool from Saints just over two years ago for a then world-record fee for a defender of $100 million they have lost just four games in the Premier League. They have finished fourth then second, won the Champions League and are on the verge of a record-breaking Premier League title in 2019-20. He was also runner up in the Ballon d’Or voting for 2019 (the last defender to win that title was Fabio Cannavaro in 2006), was the man of the match in the UCL final, has become the captain of the Dutch national team as their incredible resurgence under Ronald Koeman continues and simply put the last two years could not have gone any better for him.

When you speak to Virgil van Dijk you start to understand why he is achieving all of this. He looks into your eyes as if he’s searching for your soul to see if you are worthy of his time. At least, that’s what it feels like. With a laugh and a quick quip in his fluid Dutch accent which is almost as smooth as his play on the pitch, he calms down every situation but doesn’t waste a word with his answers. Ruthless. Efficient. Classy.

“Everyone can have their opinion, have their say on the situation we are in right now but we all know that we as a group, everyone who is involved at Melwood, we are not getting carried away,” Van Dijk told Pro Soccer Talk after his header set Liverpool on their way to a big win against bitter rivals Man United at Anfield last month. “The second part of the season just started and we all know anything is still possible. The good thing is that we have that mentality that we just focus on one game at a time.”

There is that focus and that drive from Van Dijk which you can see during and after games. He isn’t one for over-celebrating and can often be seen throwing his arms in the air in disdain when a loose pass is played or a mistake is made by one of his teammates. But the other side to him is that he is a total team player, one who lavishes praise on his teammates and can easily switch off as he’s often seen smiling and joking and enjoying time with his family and daughters in the tunnel area at Anfield after the full time whistle.

From a statistical point of view, Virgil van Dijk is very, very good but his numbers do not actually place him as being head and shoulders above other Premier League center backs like you might think.

Neal Thurman, the Fantasy Premier League Expert/Editor for our partners Rotoworld.com, breaks down Van Dijk’s numbers which add further fuel to the fire that his mentality and the aura he has perhaps outweighs how he actually plays on the pitch.

Take it away, Neal…


When you look at the numbers on the surface, Virgil Van Dijk doesn’t appear to be exceptionally dominant. Very good, yes. Historically exceptional? That takes a bit more work to uncover.

When you dig into deeper statistics that describe a defender’s activity on the pitch – things like interceptions, tackles won, clearances, and aerial duels won – you see a player who is among the league leaders but not one who is dominant in the way that N’Golo Kante was in his pomp at Leicester City.

Here’s a list of the league leaders in those defensive stats:

Player Team Matches Played Interceptions Tackles Won Clearances Aerial Duels Won Combined per Match
James Tarkowski Burnley 25 43 23 130 124 12.8
Harry Maguire Manchester United 25 42 19 93 117 10.84
Virgil Van Dijk Liverpool 25 26 12 119 116 10.92
Ben Mee Burnley 25 37 19 122 111 11.56
Jack O’Connell Sheffield United 26 31 17 121 100 10.34

The notion that all of these defensive actions are necessarily equal in value isn’t the point of the exercise but rather to point out that, by the raw numbers, Virgil Van Dijk is among the best center backs in the Premier League but not necessarily a dominating force.

The “eye test” tells us otherwise so we have to dig a little deeper and perhaps the way to do that is to layer on the concept of style of play and the resulting opportunity for a center back to take defensive actions.

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Simply put, James Tarkowski, Ben Mee, and Jack O’Connell have a lot more opportunity to make interceptions, win tackles, clear the ball, and win defensive aerial duels because their opponents have the ball a lot more. Time of possession stats have their own challenges but, in this case, judging this by the number of passes each team completes is ideal because any pass made is an opportunity for a defender to intervene.  What the numbers show us is that Liverpool enjoy just under 61% of possession while Sheffield United only have the ball 43.5% of the time and Burnley even less at 40.4% (Manchester United are less ball dominant but closer to Liverpool at 56.5%).

If you want to get a sense of how dominant Virgil Van Dijk is, think about the fact that he is putting up statistics equivalent to the other statistical leaders in the league in defensive statistics with only two thirds the opportunities to make those interventions. If you corrected for possession, Van Dijk’s would be in the range of 16 to 17 defensive contributions per match which would better approximate his dominance as a center back.


So, there you have it. In a team which doesn’t have to defend that often because they are so good going forward, Van Dijk still ranks among the Premier League’s best center backs.

He leads the Premier League with more completed passes (2,051) than any other player this season and the Dutchman had an incredible run of not being dribbled past for 49 Premier League games up until the start of this season.

All of this adds to his aura and there is almost an acceptance of defeat among strikers who now come up against him. They don’t try and dribble past or him or challenge him in the air or try to run behind him because they think and probably know, and for good reason, that he will win that duel.

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Virgil van Dijk’s importance to Liverpool cannot actually be measured. The stats show he is an extremely good defender but they can’t measure how big of an impact his mentality, self-confidence and ability to lead others has had on the Liverpool players, staff and even the fans.

When we asked him about Liverpool’s impressive defensive record, the best in the PL which has led to 11 one-goal wins this season, VVD is quick to praise his teammates.

“Everyone is involved in that,” Van Dijk says humbly without hesitation. “We have a fantastic goalkeeper, the full backs doing their jobs, the midfielders and then obviously it starts up front. It is a collective thing but as a defender we are very pleased to keep clean sheets because I think with us, if we keep a clean sheet there is a big chance to win the game. It is a good feeling.”

Simply put: Liverpool have never struggled to score goals but keeping them out was the problem. VVD has fixed that.

A future Ballon d’Or winner, Van Dijk has the potential to go down in history as one of the all-time great center backs and he has already become a Liverpool legend in just two years at the club.

That is so tough to do at such an esteemed, historically successful club. Think about all of the legends which have pass through Anfield and Van Dijk is already among them.

The Song Liverpool fans have for him (to the tune of Dirty Old Town) and chant time and time again sums up his importance and he seems to almost feed off the lyrics as a calming influence in possession and a dominant force at both ends of the pitch.

He’s our center half,
He’s our number four,
Watch him defend,
And we watch him score,
He’ll pass the ball,
Calm as you like,
He’s Virgil van Dijk,
He’s Virgil van Dijk.

Wolfsburg’s Mbabu out of Europa League after virus positive

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WOLFSBURG, Germany (AP) Wolfsburg defender Kevin Mbabu will miss his team’s Europa League last-16 game against Shakhtar Donetsk after he tested positive for the coronavirus last month, the club said Monday.

[ MORE: Predictions, Odds for Europa ]

Wolfsburg coach Oliver Glasner said the Switzerland defender would “definitely” not travel with the team to the Ukrainian capital Kyiv to play Shakhtar on Wednesday. He has not been training with the team, Glasner added.

Wolfsburg said July 25 that Mbabu had tested positive and was in isolation at home. He was not displaying symptoms, the club said at the time.

The right back played 20 games for Wolfsburg in the Bundesliga this season, including 90 minutes in all nine games after the league resumed in May amid the pandemic.

The Europa League restarts Wednesday after a break of nearly five months. The second legs of last-16 matchups will be played at the original venues.

[ LIVE: Europa League scores  ]

Two fixtures where the first leg wasn’t played before the season was suspended – Inter Milan against Getafe and Roma against Sevilla – will be played as single-leg contests in Germany.

From the quarterfinals onward all games will be played in a tournament format in Germany.

More AP soccer: https://apnews.com/Soccer and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

Transfer news: Thiago to Liverpool; Gabriel to Man United

Thiago Alcantara to Liverpool
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In transfer news there’s an update on Thiago Alcantara to Liverpool, while Gabriel to Manchester United seems to be moving to the next stage.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]

Starting in Liverpool, talk of Thiago Alcantara to Liverpool has been gathering steam over the last few weeks and a new report states that Jurgen Klopp’s men are now the favorites to sign him.

Bayern Munich expect the 29-year-old Spanish international to leave this summer and according to Mundo Deportivo Liverpool have jumped ahead of Paris Saint-Germain and are ‘very likely’ to sign the former Barcelona star.

Bayern want $35 million for Thiago who has one year left on his current contract.

The deep-lying playmaker is a totally different central midfielder to what Liverpool currently have as Jordan Henderson, Fabinho, James Milner and Georginio Wijnaldum are all hard-working more defensive minded players. And then there’s Naby Keita and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain who provide a bit more attacking intent with forward runs from central midfield.

Thiago Alcantara would help Liverpool control games better when opponents sit back and don’t allow them space to operate in-behind. He is a silky pass-master who is wanted by PSG, Liverpool, Manchester United and others, but it appears he will be heading to Anfield to give Liverpool a totally new dimension to their play. If this happens, it will make an already strong Liverpool side stronger.

Gabriel to Manchester United
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Switching to Manchester, a report in France states that Gabriel Magalhaes could be heading to Manchester United.

The Brazilian defender, 22, has been a star for Lille over the past few seasons but has been linked with Arsenal, Chelsea, Napoli, Everton and Man United consistently in recent months.

A report from French outlet RMC states that Man United’s executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward has met with Gabriel’s agents about his availability.

Lille want $35 million for Gabriel and although the report says that Man United haven’t made an offer directly to the Ligue 1 club, it is believed talks are ongoing.

Man United are said to be in the market for a winger, center back and central midfielder this summer and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is likely to be given cash to spend after securing Champions League qualification for next season.

It is believed Solskjaer wants a left-footed center back, which Gabriel is, as Victor Lindelof and Harry Maguire are often too similar at center back. Those two have developed a decent enough partnership but it appears that Solskjaer wants to replace Lindelof and adding Gabriel will also give him an option to switch to a 3-4-3 system which he likes to do to match up against  more attack-minded opponents.

Chris Smalling, Eric Bailly and Phil Jones are very much on the outside looking in at Man United in terms of their other center back options.

With Jadon Sancho reportedly on his way to Old Trafford, Solskjaer needs to bolster his center back and holding midfield options and then he is good to go for next season.

Gabriel is a young, talented center back and seems ready to make the next step and this is a good price for a player who can develop over the next few seasons.

How long of a break will Premier League clubs get?

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How long of a break will Premier League clubs get? That is the big question during the significantly shortened offseason between the 2019-20 and 2020-21 season.

In short: not long.

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When Premier League clubs all agreed that the 2020-21 season would kick off on September 12, there was an understanding that clubs in European action will be handed extra time off and could start the season late.

Manchester City and Chelsea are in Champions League action and if they reach the quarterfinal stage (Man City are looking a lot more likely to do that than Chelsea) it is expected they will start next season one week late and if they reach the semifinals and final they will start two weeks late.

The same rule is in place for Manchester United and Wolves who are in Europa League and are both in Round of 16 action this week.

If Chelsea lose to Bayern Munich on Saturday, their season will be over and they will have a 35-day break before the 2020-21 season. That is longer than the 30-day limit but Frank Lampard wants longer.

As for the other 16 Premier League teams for the 2020-21 season, the clubs who finished on the final day of the  2019-20 Premier League season on July 26 will have had 47 days off until the new season begins.

So, there you have it.

A staggered start to the 2020-21 season seems likely as the domestic campaign begins in a few weeks with the Community Shield final at Wembley between Liverpool and Arsenal on Aug. 29.

Premier League teams will have shorter, more intense preseason campaigns and are unlikely to travel for friendly games, so it will be interesting to see how much rest players actually get over the summer and if teams who get a 2-3 week longer break benefit compared to those clubs in European action.

Christian Pulisic issues injury update

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‘Pulisic injury news’ is probably trending worldwide at this point, and Chelsea and USMNT star Christian Pulisic has an injury update after he damaged his right hamstring in the FA Cup final against Arsenal on Saturday.

[ MORE: 3 things we learned ]

Pulisic, 21, scored a superb goal early on and was arguably the man of the match even though he pulled up abruptly in the 46th minute when sprinting free (once again) of the Arsenal attack and then hitting a shot wide.

After being helped off the pitch while clearly in pain, Pulisic was seen hanging around the tunnel area after the FA Cup final and was at least walking on his own.

Posting a message on Instagram following the final, here’s what Pulisic had to say:

“Gave it everything we had. Wasn’t our day. Thank you guys for your support I’ll be back in no time,” Pulisic said.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights

The fact Pulisic went off injured early in the second half of the FA Cup final severely hampered Chelsea and gave Arsenal the impetus to go on and win the final at Wembley. He has become that important to Chelsea.

Chelsea boss Frank Lampard previously confirmed that Pulisic would not be fit enough to play at Bayern Munich on Saturday in their UEFA Champions League Round of 16 second leg (Chelsea trail 3-0 from the first leg) and would have a scan to assess the damage.

Pulisic’s 2019-20 season is now done and both Chelsea and USMNT fans will be waiting with bated breath for the next injury update as hamstring injuries can be a nasty thing and reoccur easily.

The USMNT star had a few of them at Borussia Dortmund and given his incredible pace it is clear he will be more susceptible to hamstring and upper leg injuries.

Previously Lampard revealed that Pulisic had been working hard with Chelsea’s strength and conditioning coaches in recent months to build up his strength in order to adapt to the Premier League. We’ve certainly seen the results of that work in recent week as he took the Premier League by storm during the restart.

This latest update from Pulisic seems to be very good news as many had feared a lengthy injury layoff for the USMNT star but it seems like he may be ready for the start of the 2020-21 season for Chelsea.