These articles are dual-focused, analysing a player’s role at their club from a footballing perspective before considering whether that information translates into them being a viable consideration for our FPL teams. Today’s instalment discusses Liverpool defender Virgil Van Dijk.
Over the last 18 months, PFA Player of the Year Virgil Van Dijk’s contribution not just to Liverpool but the Premier League as a whole has been immense. The Dutchman is quite simply the complete defender and few could argue there are many, if any better in the world right now. Attackers find his strength, speed and composure a nightmare to play against and the fact that no player has dribbled past him in over 60 appearances is a testament to that. Combined with an eye for goal, talismanic leadership and an excellent range of passing leaves the epitome of what it means to be a defender in the modern day.
Statistically, Van Dijk is once again one of the most impressive in his position. As a result of Liverpool’s tendency to play out from defence, he racked up a total of 3037 passes across the season, only bettered by Chelsea midfielder Jorginho. He is vital in the way Liverpool develop attacks from deep with Andy Robertson the only other player at the club to boast a place inside the league’s top 25 passers.
Defensively, only seven players won more than his 181 aerial battles and just six cleared the ball on more occasions than his 199. Even though Liverpool nearly ended the season as champions, the regularity of Van Dijk’s defensive contributions is further evidence of the impact he has made to the club since joining in January 2018.
Equally useful in the opposition penalty area as his own, Van Dijk’s 26 shots inside the box was beaten by just Matt Doherty, Shane Duffy, Sean Morrison and Michael Keane amongst defenders. In every sense, he excelled in 2018/19 to a degree not managed by many Premier League defenders in recent years.
From an FPL perspective, Liverpool’s wealth of talent is the only hindrance to his appeal. A mammoth score of 208 points, the second most of any defender ever was still only enough to finish fourth for points and fifth for points per match amongst the Reds’ assets. As a result, pricing Van Dijk for next season will be a tough ask. A fine balance must be achieved between not pricing him as well as Alexander-Arnold and Robertson out of the game but at the same time ensuring that doubling or even tripling up is not a straightforward decision.
If the Liverpool defence are priced too high, there would be little value compared to cheaper options at £4.5-£5.0m, who in the case of Doherty, Pereira, Digne, were able to hit between 140 and 160 points each. Being able to rotate cheap defenders brings yet more value into this bracket, compared to similarly priced midfielders and attackers. For example, if £5.0m defenders Digne and Pereira had been rotated perfectly throughout the season, 233 points could have been gained from one position. Nobody would ever manage to do this successfully but the potential is there and should play a small part in the defensive pricing structure.
Meanwhile, David Brooks, who was covered in the previous article of this series, only managed 123 points across the season, yet this was more than any other attacker at £5.0 or under. In short, a defender is not equivalent to midfielder or forward of the same price and the discrepancy in value across these positions must be considered.
In terms of a price prediction, £7.0m seems about right based on recent seasons. Marcos Alonso’s standout 2016/17 campaign would have seen him outscore Van Dijk for points per 90 (5.92 vs 5.53) and the Spaniard subsequently received a £7.0m valuation. Greater security of starts and reliability of clean sheets play into Van Dijk’s hands though and could see a £7.5m price tag if a captaincy premium is applied.
To summarise, everything Van Dijk appears to do on the pitch on a weekly basis is backed up by data, whether defending, attacking or in possession. In a footballing perspective, nothing more can be said aside from that he is the complete defender. In FPL terms though, his appeal is slightly reduced by the availability of just three slots from each team. At this stage, Van Dijk still looks to be very close behind the winger and wing-back quartet of Salah, Mane, Alexander-Arnold and Robertson. Nonetheless, those that do decide to invest in the Dutch international have a secure set and forget spot in their team for the season.