The 2018/19 season has been a record-breaking one.
For the first time ever, two teams have surpassed the 90-point barrier. For the first time in five years, two players from the same club have 20 or more Premier League goals. And for the first time since 2004/05, a defender has been named as the Player’s Player of the Year.
Virgil Van Dijk claimed the award after an outstanding first full season for Liverpool. The behemoth Dutch centre-back has been a key part of Liverpool’s title challenge So much so that the £75million the Reds parted with is rarely mentioned.
Considered by many not only to be the best defender in the Premier League but the best in the world, on current form the former Southampton man is unrivalled and the gap between the Dutch captain and those eyeing his crown is only growing.
It’s bizarre to suggest it, due to all of the praise he’s been getting, but he’s still underrated. He’s transformed the Liverpool defence.
— Virgil van Dijk (@VirgilvDijk) April 29, 2019
Prior to his arrival on Merseyside, Jurgen Klopp had failed to build solid defensive foundations. Granted, the system deployed by the German tactician often left his players a little exposed, it was individual errors that let his team down.
The like of Dejan Lovren, Simon Mignolet, Mamadou Sakho and many more all had moments to forget. In isolation, the odd mistake isn’t an issue. It happens. But the fact it happened to different players in different matches meant it was almost a weekly occurrence. Wins turned to draws. Draws to losses. Gained points to dropped points.
In Klopp’s first season in charge at Anfield, the 2015/16 campaign, the Reds conceded 50 goals in the Premier League, 1.31 per game.
His second term was only slightly better, with the Liverpool backline being breached at a rate of 1.2 goals per game over the entirety of the campaign – 42 in total. An improvement but not a total you can challenge for the title with and not one that guarantees a top-four finish.
The start of the 2017/18 season didn’t show much signs of an improvement to begin with. At least not defensively anyway. Klopp’s side shipped in 28 goals in the 23 matches, 1.21 per game, they played before sanctioning £75million to sign van Dijk.
Prior to his arrival, it appeared as though the Reds would concede north of 40, again. But with the new Liverpool No.4 in the backline, the defence improved dramatically.
The team finished the season having conceded 38 goals in total. Their best return since the 2009/10 campaign.
0 – No opposition player has completed a dribble past Virgil van Dijk in any of his 36 PL apps this season. In fact, this run stretches back to last March, meaning he hasn’t been dribbled past by an opponent in any of his last 45 PL apps. Immovable. #PFAAwards #POTY pic.twitter.com/Y8BIsle0vq
— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) April 28, 2019
Furthermore, since 1/1/2018, Liverpool’s goals conceded per 90 minute average dropped to 0.64. The Reds, this term, have conceded just 20 goals in 36 matches. It’s an average of 0.55. The best defensive record in the English top flight since Chelsea conceded just 15 goals during the 2004/05 season.
Van Dijk isn’t solely responsible for Liverpool’s new-found resilience but he’s played an instrumental part in it and is the poster boy of Klopp’s new look side. The PFA Player of the Year award just rewards for his performances.
*Odds subject to change
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by Tom Bodell