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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.

‘Emotional’ Quique Setien humble in first Barcelona presser

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Quique Setien was unveiled as new Barcelona manager on Tuesday, and should you believe his first words as boss, the “emotional” 61-year-old was preparing himself to wake up from this dream.

“Yesterday, I was walking around my hometown past the cows, and now I’m here at Barcelona managing the best players in the world,” Setien said when asked about his new job.

“Not even in my wildest dreams could I have imagined this. I am a person who is emotional about things, and I am very excited and happy to be here.”

It’s real. Barcelona plucked the Santander-born former Spanish international from Real Betis after the clunky dismissal of Ernesto Valverde. The club sits top of the La Liga table and is in good Champions League standing, but still wanted more from Valverde. After publicly courting Xavi, Ronald Koeman, and Mauricio Pochettino, Barcelona eventually settled on Setien.

“I want to thank Ernesto Valverde for leaving me with a side that is top of the league,” Setien said. “My objective is to win everything! Everything you can win, this club has no other path to follow.”

If anyone knows where Barcelona can improve, it’s Setien, who is the last manager to beat Barcelona at the Camp Nou, with victory coming back in November of 2018.

“Every time a new manager comes in, there is a stimulus for everyone inside the dressing room,” Setien said of his arrival. “You notice it immediately. This stimulus that we saw in the session today, we need to maintain that and I have never met a coach who is the same. Many people say ‘this coach is exactly the same’, but the reality is we are all very different. I am very clear as to what Barca needs. I’ve seen this from outside, we’ve watched them and analyzed them. There are a lot of things we are very clear about and we will try to transmit that. These are just words, though, and we want things that are long-lasting.”

Setien no doubt has his work cut out for him. Barcelona looked flawed in the final few months of Valverde’s tenure, and whether that’s the former boss’s fault or not is up for debate, the issues with the squad are clear as day. While Lionel Messi remains as electric as ever at 32 years old, the longtime backbone of Barcelona is fading, with Sergio Busquets and Gerard Pique both clearly in decline. Frenkie de Jong is holding down the midfield in his first season with the club, but Ivan Rakitic and Arturo Vidal have struggled with form at times this year.

Barcelona is atop the La Liga table, but Real Madrid is level on points. The there is still the full Champions League knockout stage and the entire Copa de Rey to navigate. The 3-2 Supercopa loss to Atletico Madrid was a harsh final straw for Valverde, but the club has moved on to pastures anew, and now Setien leaves his hometown cows behind to take one of the biggest jobs in the world.

Netherlands announce March friendly against United States

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The Dutch national team announced on Friday morning an upcoming friendly against the United States, set to take place in Eindhoven on March 26 with kickoff scheduled for 2:45 p.m. ET.

It will be the first time in four years that the two teams have met, with the U.S. winning 4-3 back in 2015 in a game that saw the United States come from two goals down to beat a Robin Van Persie-led Netherlands squad. The friendly was a wild back-and-forth affair that saw Danny Williams and Bobby Wood score two goals in the final three minutes to secure a comeback victory, with the Dutch hitting the post twice in the final 10 minutes as well. The U.S. had not beaten the Netherlands in four previous meetings before that come-from-behind win.

The upcoming match is of particular interest to Sergino Dest, the 19-year-old Dutch-born full-back who recently decided to commit his future to the United States over the Netherlands. Dest had represented the United States at the youth level but was heavily pursued by Dutch national team head coach Ronald Koeman.

The United States did not immediately confirm the announcement. U.S. Soccer has not yet posted official information for any 2020 matches on its official website. It remains to be seen if the United States will look to schedule a second European team on the road for that same international break, or if they will play one at home before hitting the road for the Netherlands match.

Ranking the top 10 Ballon d’Or contenders

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The Ballon d’Or will be awarded in Paris, France on Monday, as the top player on the planet in the last 12 months will be honored by France Football.

But who deserves the coveted title?

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Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo are among the favorites once again, as one or the other won this award for 10 years on the trot with five each, but Luka Modric broke up their monopoly after being crowned the best player on the planet in 2018.

Liverpool’s Virgil Van Dijk is among the favorites given his transformative arrival at Anfield to take Jurgen Klopp‘s side to European glory last season and so close to a first Premier League title, while the likes of Kylian Mbappe, Sadio Mane and Raheem Sterling are all leading contenders too.

But all eyes will be on Messi (the bookmakers favorite), Ronaldo and Van Dijk as the Argentine star was named FIFA’s Best Player of the Year, VVD won UEFA’s top player and both times Ronaldo came up short.

Below is a look at our ranking of the top 10 candidates (from the 30-man shortlist) as the winner will be announced later on Monday.

Feel free to add your thoughts and let us know who you think deserves to win the award in the comments section below.


10. Eden Hazard: A very decent season with Chelsea under Maurizio Sarri and led Belgium to top spot in the world rankings. His start at Real Madrid hasn’t been that impressive, but we know the quality he has and injuries have started to build up.

9. Roberto Lewandowski: A simply amazing start to the 2019-20 season for club and country has pushed Lewandowski higher up the list. He’s led Poland to EURO 2020 and made sure Bayern Munich won the Bundesliga last season despite all of their struggles. The best central striker on the planet? Quite possibly.

8. Bernardo Silva: What an incredible 12 months the Portuguese playmaker has had. Silva has taken his game to a totally new level and he was key in Man City winning the PL title last season, and Portugal winning the inaugural UEFA Nations League trophy.

7. Alisson: Alongside Virgil van Dijk the Brazilian goalkeeper has transformed Liverpool’s defensive unit. He doesn’t have a weakness and is so good with the ball at his feet. Alisson came up big throughout their UCL run and his injury at the start of this season proved how much they need him.

6. Kylian Mbappe: It is amazing to think he is only 21 years old. Mbappe carried PSG to the French title last season while Neymar was out injured and he is France’s leading light as they aim for EURO 2020 glory this summer. He continues to get better each and every month.

5. Sadio Mane: So often the player in Liverpool’s side who was under appreciated, that is no longer the case for Mane. This season he leads the team in goals with 12 as Salah battles through injury. Mane is clutch and always delivers when Liverpool need him most.

4. Raheem Sterling: Talking about delivering, Raheem Sterling’s incredible consistency has seen him move close to breaking into the top three in the world conversation. He has finally found composure in front of goal and the Man City and England star has scored 15 goals for City this season and eight goals in nine games in 2019 for the Three Lions. 12 months from now it feels like Sterling will be pushing hard for the Ballon d’Or.

3. Cristiano Ronaldo: Another country, another team, another title. Cristiano Ronaldo is a machine and led Juventus to the Serie A title last season as well as Portugal to the Nations League trophy. He is a serial winner but there has been a few signs of his production slowing down. Still, he is in the top three.

2. Lionel Messi: He may well win the award a secure a record sixth Ballon d’Or and recent displays will probably seal it if he does. Barcelona won La Liga and he has been at his wizard-like best for most of the last 12 months, but there have been blips like they UCL semifinal defeat at Liverpool and his meltdown for Argentina against Chile. Messi is undoubtedly the GOAT, but don’t be surprised if he’s pipped at the post to this award.

1. Virgil van Dijk: Okay, here me out here. Virgil van Dijk is a towering giant and on his own he has not only transformed Liverpool defensively but also their mentality into a winning team too. He has also done that for the Netherlands as they’ve been totally transformed under Ronald Koeman and it’s hard to remember a defensive player having such a big impact for club and country over a 12-month period. VVD is a born leader and he deserves to win this award. Messi may win it, but Van Dijk deserves it.

Report: Everton consider replacing Marco Silva

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Everton boss Marco Silva appears to be almost out of time at Goodison Park.

After their 2-0 defeat at home against bottom club Norwich on Saturday the Toffees sit in 15th place in the Premier League table, four points above the relegation zone as boos rang out from the home fans during the game and at the final whistle.

Our partners in the UK, Sky Sports, believe that David Moyes and Eddie Howe are being lined up to replace Silva, possibly before they travel to Leicester City on Sunday (Watch live, 11:30 a.m. ET online via NBCSports.com).

The former is a former Everton boss, of course, and the latter is an Everton fan as Howe has spoken to the Toffees in the past about a managerial vacancy but remained at Bournemouth.

Here are a few more details from Sky Sports:

“Everton are considering replacing Marco Silva before Sunday’s clash at Leicester, with David Moyes a strong contender and Eddie Howe also of interest, Sky Sports News has been told. It could lead to a sensational return for former boss Moyes to Goodison Park, possibly on an initial short-term deal until the end of the season, to steady what is currently a sinking ship. But Bournemouth boss Howe, who has been on Everton’s shortlist in the past, is still favored by some members of the Everton board.”

It would appear that Moyes could come in on a short-term deal to push Everton up the table, bring some stability and allow the talented players they have to play within a clear framework.

That’s not something Everton have right now under Silva, as the Portuguese coach has struggled to develop a clear playing style and identity in the 18 months he’s been in charge.

Would Howe leave Bournemouth for Everton? His Cherries side have one win in their last seven games and could slip into a relegation scrap in the second half of the season, so now may be the right time for him to make that step away from the club he has managed for the past seven years.

Howe is no doubt the favorite as a long-term option, but there is a sense that Everton’s fans would be more than happy with Moyes coming back in to steady the ship, just as Sam Allardyce did after Roberto Martinez’s firing. But that respite didn’t last long as Big Sam was then fired as Ronald Koeman arrived.

Everton have the investment they need from majority shareholder Farhad Moshiri but they’ve made some poor managerial appointments in recent seasons and although Marcel Brands has arrived as their Director of Football, plenty of mistakes continue to be made in the transfer market too.

Is that because Moshiri and others among the Everton board, such as long-time chairman Bill Kenwright, want too much say in what the manager is doing and who they are buying? Perhaps.

Moyes would know what he’s getting in to while Howe will be wary of all the managers who have come and gone in the past few years.

Silva is on his last legs at Everton but who on earth would want this job right now?

“Give it to Moysey ’til end of the season?”