Virgil van Dijk Can Have a Huge Impact on Liverpool

Liverpool finished last season in fourth place, and adding one of the Premier League's top defenders should only solidify their top-four chances for the upcoming campaign.

In soccer, defenders are often overlooked at the expense of forwards or midfielders, guys who are able to provide a moment of brilliance which results in goals. Goals change games, after all, so those players who are able to create and score goals certainly deserve all of the plaudits that comes their way.

However, strong defensive players also have a drastic impact on the game on the other end on the field, as their ability to prevent goals from being scored is equally important.

On the defensive side, Southampton center-back Virgil van Dijk has proven to be one of the Premier League's elite defenders, and he may be on the move. Liverpool is reportedly close to signing the Saints star man, and his arrival on Merseyside could have a big impact on the Reds.

How Good Is He?

Van Dijk has dominated the EPL over the past two seasons, delivering a 7.43 rating (12th-best rating in the EPL; 2nd for defenders) last season and a 7.56 rating (7th in EPL; 1st for defenders) during the 2015-16 season.

Van Dijk is known for being extremely strong in the air, as he averaged 4.7 aerials won per match last season, which was the most out of all defenders in the EPL. Van Dijk also finished in the top 10 in the league (among all players) in both interceptions and clearances. In addition, opponents were only able to dribble past (drb in the chart below) van Dijk at a minuscule rate of 0.3 times per game. This is perhaps the most impressive stat that van Dijk has compiled, as he manages to keep attackers in front of him, preventing breakaway opportunities.

Another impressive aspect of van Dijk's game is his incredible consistency over the course of the previous two seasons.

Season Tackles Int Clearances Drb Aerials Pass Accuracy WhoScored Rating
2016-17 1.9 2.6 6.8 0.3 4.7 84.2 7.43
2015-16 1.7 2.8 7.6 0.3 4.8 83.1 7.56

Van Dijk has compiled an extremely similar stat line in several key categories over the past two seasons, showing that his strong performance in 2015-16 was not a fluke. At only 26 years of age, van Dijk is hitting his prime, and he has the ability to potentially put together many more elite seasons over the next several years.

A Vital Cog

Not only has van Dijk put together impressive individual stat totals, there is also data that indicates how important his presence in the lineup is to Southampton. The center-back only played in 21 games last season, missing 17 due to injury, so this gives us an interesting sample of how his club team played with and without him.

StatWith van DijkWithout van Dijk
Points Per Match1.291.12
Goals Allowed Per Game1.101.47

Without Van Dijk, Southampton conceded an additional 0.37 goals per game last season while earning 0.17 fewer points per game. At this rate, Southampton would concede roughly an additional 14 goals over the course of the season, and they would earn roughly 6.5 less points if they did not have van Dijk.

There are certainly many other variables that impacted how Southampton performed with and without van Dijk last season, but this does at least help us begin to quantify van Dijk's value to a certain extent.

Potential Impact on Liverpool

Van Dijk is a star, and as a star, he has drawn interest from the major English clubs such as Liverpool and Chelsea.

Liverpool, in particular, would benefit drastically from the addition of van Dijk, as he would help bolster a defense that desperately needs a boost. Liverpool conceded 42 goals last season, more than any other team which finished in the top four. Defense is clearly a need for the Reds, and adding a player of van Dijk's caliber can't hurt.

Tightening up its defense while keeping Barcelona away from star man Philippe Coutinho -- which is sounding like it may be harder to do with each passing day -- is exactly what Liverpool need to do to put in a good showing in the Champions League this season while giving itself a good shot at another top-four finish.