It is no secret that Virgil van Dijk has been one of Liverpool’s best pieces of business in the recent years. On his debut season for the Reds, he was instrumental in helping the team reach a Champions League final for the first time since 2007.
The next two seasons saw him take full responsibility for the Liverpool defence which proved a solid foundation for the club to go on and secure the Champions League, the Premier League, the Club World Cup and the UEFA Super Cup and most recently, the League Cup.
The Dutchman’s individual brilliance was on display during these 3 years of team successes. During the 2018/19 season, Van Dijk had not been dribbled past by an opposition player for 50 consecutive UCL and PL appearances.
This is not a standard defensive statistic used for a player as it is difficult to achieve it realistically for a lot of defenders. But VVD’s performance in the 2018/19 season has seen the footballing world accept it as a legitimate stat and has since then been used as a marker for other top defenders several times.
Producing stats such as this, VVD ended the season on a high by also being crowned the PFA Player of the Season in just his second season at Liverpool. Under his leadership, the Merseyside club managed to concede the least number of goals during this season and their title winning 2019/20 season in the Premier League.
While Van Dijk had turned many heads with his quality during his Southampton days, his sudden rise at Liverpool (individual and team successes) meant him drawing comparisons already with some of the best defenders in the history of the game.
The natural comparisons came with the likes of Sergio Ramos and Giorgio Chiellini who were still playing as VVD started his Liverpool career. But it looks like comparisons are now stretching even further into the past as Leeds defender Pascal Struijk has shown.
The Belgium-born player included Van Dijk’s name alongside Italian legends Paulo Maldini and Alessandro Nesta when asked to name the top 5 defenders of all time during a Q&A on Twitter.
Maldini, Sergio Ramos, Van Dijk, Puyol & Nesta 🔥— Pascal Struijk (@StruijkPascal) March 24, 2022
Not in any particular order https://t.co/C6cF2dy1nw
Struijk also included the Spanish duo of Ramos and Carles Puyol to complete his list of top 5 centre-backs. Naturally these comparisons have elicited criticism from a lot of fans as they believe VVD’s inclusion in this list is premature and that while the Dutchman’s talent is unquestionable, he should be compared to these greats only at the latter stages of his career.
Maldini and Nesta were outstanding defenders for club and country and on numerous occasions made defending look simple and elegant and had no problems facing attackers on their own.
The latter is a big part of VVD’s defensive repertoire and perhaps his style has reminded Struijk of the Italian greats leading to the Dutchman’s inclusion as one of the best defenders in his books.