For years, Liverpool's defense struggled. The start of the 2017/18 campaign was no different until the winter transfer window, when Liverpool finally got their man: Virgil van Dijk. At the time, the club was criticized for how they had handled the transfer and for paying too much for a defender (£75 million) but now, a full year on, those arguments seem distant memories. Instead, debates surrounding van Dijk these days tend to be about his status as the best defender in the Premier League and a likely front-runner for the PFA Player of the Year award.
The purchase of van Dijk has proven to be a fantastic move for the club, and the impact he has had on Liverpool's long-maligned defense has been irrefutable. Since 2010, they had conceded 40-plus goals in every Premier League season ... until the Dutchman arrived. After his first start for them in Matchweek 24 last year, van Dijk helped Liverpool concede less than a goal per game and, by the end of the season, helped the club allow less than 30 goals in a domestic campaign for just the third time in a decade.
With the continued growth of Trent Alexander-Arnold, Joe Gomez, and Andrew Robertson, as well as the purchase of Roma's star keeper Allison in the summer, people expected the Liverpool defense would continue to improve, but few predicted the level to which they have ascended in 2018/19. This season, and since van Dijk joined the club, no team has conceded fewer goals or recorded more clean sheets than Jurgen Klopp's side. In fact, having allowed 17 goals thus far, they are currently on pace to concede just 21 goals by the end of the campaign, which would make them the best Premier League defense since Chelsea in 2004/05! This rapid improvement has launched Liverpool into a legitimate title challenge for the first time in six years, and the on-pitch leader of that revolution has been van Dijk.
At the defensive end of the pitch, van Dijk has naturally been dominant, ranking top three in his tier in interceptions, blocks, and clearances while also playing a relatively clean game, mostly avoiding negative statistics (12 fouls, 1 yellow card). Of course, van Dijk defending well is hardly newsworthy, but this year he's also delivered in attack, having scored a personal and fantasy tier best three goals to date.
Where he's really improved though is passing. As teams continue to pass out from the back rather than boot it upfield, defenders have overtaken the passing charts, claiming seven of the top-10 spots. At the top of that heap is Jorginho, but just behind him is van Dijk, who leads everyone at his position. While not the sexiest stat in football, or indeed our game, the defender buoy's his weekly totals with them to terrific effect. The Liverpool man averages a little over 71 passes per match which, at .1 points per action, means the floor for van Dijk in any given week is around seven points ... and that's if he literally did nothing else on the pitch.
He has played in every league match this season, making van Dijk the most consistent and reliable player not just among defenders or in his tier, but in the entirety of the ESPN game. On the season, the Dutchman has posted just six single-digit outings, and just two since September. In fact, Laurent Koscielny and John Stones are the only other first tier defenders to have had fewer single-digit matches, and both have played at least 10 fewer matches. It's not just the floor that's incredibly high though, but the ceiling as well with van Dijk having finished at the top of his tier twice as many weeks (eight) than the next highest player (David Luiz and Matthew Doherty with four).
That combination of high-floor, high-ceiling and consistency has seen Virgil van Dijk go from one of the best defenders in the Premier League to the best. Since January last season, he has recorded the most points among all defenders and ranks eighth overall in the ESPN game. He was already amazing, but this season, like Liverpool, van Dijk has taken a massive leap forward.
In 2018/19 he's been a top-five player overall and has widened the gap between himself and the rest of the field to a frankly ridiculous margin, currently boasting a 101.4 point lead over the next best defender in our game, his teammate Andrew Robertson. In fact, the gap between first and second at the position is the same as the gap from second all the way down to 32nd. That gap is so significant, that van Dijk's lead in his tier is nearly double that of any other player. So whether or not the Dutchman is the best player in the league is up for debate, but it's hard to argue that anyone is better at their position than Virgil van Dijk is at his.
Liverpool knew this when they purchased him last season, and he immediately improved their defense, and turned them into title contenders. If you pick him every week, he could do the same for you.