Friday 23 August 2019

Richard Dunne: 'Liverpool will have to rely on Virgil van Dijk and his consistent class in title run-in'

Read Richard Dunne every week in The Herald

Virgil van Dijk takes on former club Southampton tonight (Peter Byrne/PA)
Virgil van Dijk takes on former club Southampton tonight (Peter Byrne/PA)
Richard Dunne

Richard Dunne

The key to winning trophies is staying in games. If you can manage to get a positive result when you haven’t played well, that’s a good sign.

That’s what Liverpool have done for the majority  of the season. There have been plenty of games where they have won by the odd goal and it’s got them to where they are, and that in itself is a trait of a championship-winning side.

But when you compare them to Manchester City, how easy they make it look in their games, how fluid they look, it’s two different ways of trying to win a league. Liverpool are leaving it to chance, whereas City are going and taking their opportunities.

For Liverpool, tonight’s game in Southampton is a tough one, Southampton is a place where they’ve not had the best record in the last few years and there is a bit of a resurgence about Southampton, they have been doing really well.

It’s a tough game so you’d like to see Liverpool go and dominate the match, win it comfortably and that will breed even more confidence, show that they can hit form even at this late stage of the season, in the league and also in the Champions League.

With City not playing in the league this weekend, it’s a chance for Liverpool to go on and make a statement, not just go back on top but do it in style. If they go to Southampton and just about scrape a 1-0 win that might annoy City just as much as a convincing win.

But it’s about Liverpool making a point to themselves. They know they have an opportunity here and they need to grab it. One day, at some stage this season, it’s not going to go their way, they won’t get that 1-0 win that they have been getting away with at times. Liverpool need to be playing well, they need to keep their form up, keep confidence high.

Their camp might feel they are doing enough just by winning but they can get that extra bit of confidence from playing well. Liverpool were fortunate to beat Spurs last weekend, they were lucky with the goal and Spurs had some good chances where, if they’d fallen to the right men, they’d have scored and gone ahead. But I’d like to see more from them.

One man who has not disappointed is Virgil van Dijk. He has been exceptional for them. The way he has defended all season has been superb but he has also been a leader for the team. The other players look up to him, opposing players look at him, the sheer size of him, and think ‘we’re in for a battle today’.

Van Dijk oozes confidence, every time he touches the ball he looks comfortable and I think that spreads throughout the team. As long as Liverpool keep him fit and playing well, they have a boost for every game. If they lost him, even for a game or two, I could see a sense of panic setting in there. So he is vital to them, as important as anyone else in that team.

He has been on an upward curve in his career, for a few years now he has just been getting better and better, and he is now reaching a level where he can be considered as one of the best defenders in Europe, even the world.

The key is getting that consistency. There are loads of centre halves around who can play well, have a good game one week but drop their levels a week later. What I like about van Dijk is that he deals with everything the same way, every week. He performs every single week, and in the Premier League that is very hard to do.

For a manager to be able to rely on him is huge, and that has been a big comfort to Jurgen Klopp this season. He picks his team every week not needing to worry about van Dijk because he knows what he will get from him. Van Dijk is the one player who leads the rest, and he’s not even the captain.

Normally, all the praise and plaudits go to the strikers or the midfielders who score goals but, as a former defender, it’s pleasing to see a big centre half get praise.

For me, van Dijk’s status at Liverpool is the opposite of what you have at Manchester United, in that you can’t rely on their centre halves. Pick any of them - Jones, Smalling, Lindelof - and they have all had good games, at stages of the season. But they don’t perform every week.

I feel the same about Lloris in goal at Spurs, the Manchester United and Arsenal defenders, David Luiz at Chelsea this season: they each have an error in them for every game. But van Dijk doesn’t, he is consistent every week.

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