By 90Min
March 22, 2019

Alexa, how good does a player have to be to cost £75m and still feel like a bargain?

Alexa: 'Virgil van Dijk is a Dutch professional footballer who plays as a centre-back for Liverpool FC.'

Trying to summarise the Breda Bohemoth's impact since joining from Southampton last January using mere words is a futile effort. Such is the extent of the universal, well-earned praise he has received over the last 14 months, that it has become near impossible to say something about him that hasn't already been said. 

CHRISTOF STACHE/GettyImages

Simply put, he had a seismic impact on the Reds defence from day one, and even the most basic stats back up that assertion. In the 15 league games in which he featured last season, Jurgen Klopp's side conceded just ten goals - they had conceded 28 in the previous 23. 

It laid the foundation for the defensive progression that would take place in the summer. It wasn't as much a face-lift as it was full-blown, transformative surgery, with the arrival of Alisson putting the cherry on the cake (or between the sticks, as it were) and symbolising the birth of one of the best defensive lines ever seen in the Premier League era. 

At the heart of it all, week after week, has been Van Dijk. He leads the way for Liverpool in clearances, blocks, interceptions, successful aerial duels, and even passes completed. As Jamie Carragher put it, it's been like watching a man playing a kids' game at times.

As it stands, then, the battle for PFA player of the year is between the best defender in the best defence, and the best attackers in the best attack. His main competition, it is widely thought, come in the form of Manchester City's Sergio Aguero and Raheem Sterling, who have netted 33 goals and assisted a further 15 between them in the league. 

While they have enjoyed formidable seasons, however, with City outscoring their title rivals by nine points having played a game fewer, the truth is that statistically, the duo don't entirely stand out from the crowd. 

In fact, as good as the pair have been, the electric Sadio Mane and the misfiring Mohamed Salah - on 17 strikes each - have more goals between them.

Clive Brunskill/GettyImages

That's not to say neither player deserves to be in contention - football is more than just scoring goals after all -  but it does serve to highlight that there are other attackers in the league to whom they can be reasonably compared.  

By contrast, if there is a defender in the league who shapes up favourably and consistently against the towering figure of Van Dijk, then I'm yet to see them.

Comparisons are often made with City's Aymeric Laporte, with Joleon Lescott recently claiming his development has had a similar impact on City to that of Van Dijk's arrival at Liverpool. The stats, though, suggest that is wide of the mark.

As per the Premier League website, the two have had similar involvement in games, and have played in teams who have largely dominated. Van Dijk, though, wins roughly 75% of his aerial duels and 73% of his tackles. For Laporte, that's 60% and 43%. Across the board, in fact, Van Dijk wins out in virtually every category; some by more convincing margins than others.

It's the same story with just about any defender you compare him to. Toby Alderweireld, and Vincent Lindelof (since the turn of the year) both put up an admirable effort, but Van Dijk remains in a league of his own, both statistically and in terms of his performances. 

You could argue that City's Vincent Kompany, if he was capable of playing week-in week-out, would give the Dutchman a run for his money; over his 12 appearances in the league this term, he boasts a mightily impressive tackle success rate of 89%. But then again, if Kompany was capable of playing week-in week-out, he would have won the player of the year award by now. 

OLI SCARFF/GettyImages

The point is this: while Aguero and Sterling would both be deserving winners in a normal season, they are in the category with a man who has so far had one of the most efficient defensive seasons in recent memory. 

Of course, there's a good bit of football to be played: but unless we see something extraordinary in the remaining seven or eight games of the campaign, then Liverpool's Dutch destroyer should be the first defender to win the award since John Terry in 2005.

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