Analysing Virgil van Dijk's excellent defensive performance against Liverpool
Claude Puel’s Southampton side picked up an excellent point at home to high flying Liverpool on Saturday afternoon, becoming only the third side to stop the prolific Reds notching in a league game this campaign.
The main reason behind this fine defensive display was the fabulous performance of Saints’ defence, typified in the great performance of Virgil van Dijk.
Liverpool did have chances to win the game, Roberto Firmino and Nathaniel Clyne wasting the best of them, but in comparison to other matches this season, they were much more limited with regards to clear cut opportunities.
Van Dijk and his colleagues played a large part in this by being clever in their positioning and not getting drawn in by the rapid movement in front of them.
The Dutchman only attempted two tackles in the game, making both of them, showing the defensive discipline required to repel the most potent attacking force in the league.
When a bit more force was needed, though, van Dijk was there. Sadio Mane, who Southampton fans will know is as rapid as they come, was streaking in on goal in the first half, only to be denied by a brilliant sliding block by his former teammate.
He wasn’t just vigilant when he needed to be, but utterly dominant in other areas of the game. He won all three of his aerial duels, was never dispossessed by Liverpool’s high press and made an impressive 80% of his passes, a fair few of which were hit long to avoid losing the ball in midfield. Saint’s ability to reduce pressure on themselves stemmed from the back.
Van Dijk’s game wasn’t quite an unqualified success, though, and he can count himself lucky not to have found himself in more trouble when he tugged down Roberto Firmino on the edge of the box as a cross came over.
The pull took pace mostly outside the box, and would have likely resulted in a free kick to the Reds, but if the referee had seen the incident with any clarity it is likely that the Saints man could have cost his team.
That minor blip aside, van Dijk’s dominant performance perfectly exemplified the reasons why he is considered to be one of the Premier League’s best central defenders. He is rumoured to have a £50 million release clause in his contract. If he carries on playing like this, someone may just pay it.
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