Virgil van Dijk’s miraculous campaign last season deservedly got him two accolades. His performance helped Liverpool win the UEFA Champions League and took them ever closer to winning the Premier League for the first time. But last season can well be described as an ‘unreal’ achievement.
And while it is unfair to compare a player from one huge campaign, the differences this season have been visible. And it hasn’t been as sparkling as last year was. Indeed, it was rather expected considering it couldn’t really get better than last season and matching it is pretty much unexpected.
So far this season, the Dutchman has played 13 times in the Premier League and has also appeared four times in the UEFA Champions League.
Last season, Van Dijk was Liverpool’s second-highest rated player as per WhoScored, with an average rating of 7.44. Mohamed Salah was the best, as per the website. When it comes to this campaign, he has been the club’s seventh-best player with a rating of 7.26. The likes of Joel Matip (albeit injured), Sadio Mane, Andrew Robertson, Roberto Firmino, Trent Alexander-Arnold and Salah have had better ratings than the Dutch star.
The system hasn’t exactly changed. Jurgen Klopp has stuck to the club’s 4-3-3 shape, with Van Dijk and Dejan Lovren or Matip playing together at the back. The full-backs in Alexander-Arnold and Robertson fly forward and Fabinho sits in front of the back four. The two hardworking midfielders try to win the ball back and the front three are just the same.
One stat that jumped out from last season was how Van Dijk wasn’t dribbled past even once in the Premier League. While that was a valid stat and screamed of perfection, Van Dijk has attempted 0.8 tackles per game this season – less than the 1 that he attempted per game last season.
But despite tackling less, he has been dribbled past 0.2 times per game. That isn’t alarming, but it shows that one can’t expect perfection in every season.
His ability on the ball was supreme last season. He played only 4.9 inaccurate short-passes last season, playing only inaccurate 3.3 long-balls per game. This campaign, he has played 5.8 inaccurate short-passes and has played 4 inaccurate long-balls per game. That number has increased – a sign that it hasn’t been as good as last year’s efforts.
This season, Van Dijk has also made more fouls than he did last season. The number of fouls per game has increased from 0.3 last season to 0.5 to the present day. That isn’t alarming either, even though there has been a slight degradation.
Despite playing less passes per game this season, his passing percentage has reduced too. His percentage stood at 89.7 percent last year and he played 79.9 passes per game. So far, he has played 74.8 passes per game but has had a passing percentage of 86.9 percent to date.
Liverpool have also suffered from the inconsistency in what partner Van Dijk has. Dejan Lovren has stepped in recently as Matip has been injured, while Matip was a regular at the back throughout last season. It was a regular sight.
That has made Van Dijk look slightly less effective. In the first 13 games of last season, Liverpool had conceded just five goals. This season, they have shipped 11 goals – a sign that things at the back haven’t been as good.
That isn’t to say that Van Dijk has been poor by any means. He is still a world-class defender and expecting him to be as good as last season would be an unrealistic expectation.