Why Liverpool’s Virgil van Dijk is one of the most influential Premier League players of all time

Prior to January 2018, any ball falling near Liverpool’s penalty area was made to look like a hand grenade by nervous and untrustworthy centre-backs. When the opponents won the corners late, a silence fell over Anfield, followed by a murmur signaling impending doom. Today there is barely a buzz of foreboding, with the hope being that Van Dijk, Ibrahima Konate or Matip will win the first header at the edge of the penalty area from where their forwards will lead the charge forward . Liverpool turned the free-kick concession into a weapon.

The 1-0 win over West Ham was actually atypical. David Moyes’ side appeared to have more chances in one game than the combined efforts of all visitors to Anfield since Christmas. If Liverpool catch up with Manchester City, those moments when Pablo Fornals and Manuel Lanzini inflated their lines with only Alisson Becker between them and a point will take on greater significance.

So will the final clearances and tackles of Trent Alexander-Arnold, Andy Robertson and Naby Keita. The cultural change at Anfield was perhaps best summed up in the third minute of injury time, when Konate topped West Ham’s desperate final set-piece. Barely memorable in 90 minutes, but essential to preserve Liverpool’s victory.

“All those situations were, for me, like scoring a goal,” Klopp said.

“Inside, it has exactly the same importance for me.”

For all the regular tributes to Liverpool’s attacking excellence, the cornerstone of their successful trophy quests was laid on the day Van Dijk made his debut.


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