Liverpool relinquished the lead in the title race to Manchester City over the weekend, but another fine performance from Virgil van Dijk has left many asking the question of whether it’s time to recognise the defensive side of the game.
The last defender to be recognised with some form of award outside of the Premier League Team of the Year was John Terry in the 2004-05 season. Terry led Chelsea to their first top-flight title in 50 years, conceding only 15 goals in 38 games and he picked up the PFA Players’ Player of the Year award.
Since then, the award has been won twice by central midfielders, eight times by wingers and three times by a striker. It seems that defenders have to perform out of their skin to get recognised now, and to achieve more than just a place in the Team of the Year.
You have to go all the way back to 1978 to see the last centre-half to win the Footballer of the Year award. Kenny Burns won the title with Nottingham Forest in that campaign and picked up the individual plaudits too.
Virgil van Dijk signed for Liverpool in January 2018, and has now played 43 league games. In that time, the Reds have only conceded 24 league goals.
When you break that down, in the last 14 games on the 2017-18 season, Liverpool conceded nine goals and kept eight clean sheets. They’d conceded 29 in the 24 games prior to signing him, keeping only nine clean sheets.
This season, through 29 games, they’ve conceded just 15. The back-line, led by van Dijk has also kept 17 clean sheets already,
On top of that, the Dutchman has also picked up three league goals, including a brace against Watford in a 5-0 thumping at the back end of February. He’s close to equalling his best tally of league goals in a season which came at Celtic in the 2013-14 campaign, where he netted five times.
It’s not just van Dijk’s performance on the pitch that deserves recognition. If you look at the rest of the Liverpool defence on paper, it doesn’t stand out as a back-line that will keep as many clean sheets and ship as few goals as they have.
Andrew Robertson has matured under the guidance of Virgil, as has Trent Alexander-Arnold on the right hand side. Every game, van Dijk has the presence of mind to organise his own game and advise others on theirs whilst making very few mistakes.
He’s not had a settled centre-back partnership too, so he’s had to contend with a differing pairing regularly. Joe Gomez started alongside Virgil, but a long term injury has since seen the second centre-back role been shared between Dejan Lovren, Joel Matip and Fabinho.
Van Dijk and Alisson have been the only ever-presents in that defence, which is why one, or both, deserve to get heaped with recognition and praise. It’s not often you see a team concede as few goals, but when it’s happened before, it’s happened in a settled back-line.
Whatever Liverpool go on to achieve this season, it’s unlikely that Virgil van Dijk will go on to claim any more recognition than just a place in the Premier League Team of the Year, but he’d be a thoroughly deserving winner of solo awards should he be put forward for them.
Not even a complete Liverpool capitulation could detract from the heavy influence the Dutchman has had on the defensive nature of the side, but should Liverpool go on to win the league, which they’re 12/5 to do, or at least continue to fight for it, then Virgil could go on to pick up some of the top honours and break years of attacking dominance in the award ceremonies.
Click here for the latest Premier League odds.
All Odds and Markets are correct as of the date of publishing.