Is Liverpool's Virgil Van Dijk really the greatest defender over one full season?

Is Liverpool's Virgil Van Dijk really the greatest defender over one full season?


            Before you start reading, let me tell you this. This blog is not anti-Liverpool or pro-any other club. It is a simple statistical analysis of the numbers produced by Virgil Van Dijk, widely hailed as the best defender in the world right now, over the course of this season. While his numbers stand-alone are extremely impressive, they do not come close to the numbers produced by some of the all time Premier League greats.


            Let’s first look at the numbers produced by Van Dijk:


Clean sheet14
Goals conceded15
Last man tackles0
Aerial battles won117
Penalties conceded1


            The numbers are pretty impressive, Van Dijk averages 1 interception/game, his defense has conceded 0.55 goals/game while he has made 0.89 tackles/game. Van Dijk is absolutely huge aerially, winning 117 aerial battles in all this season. By some distance, Van Dijk has been one of the best defender of the Premier League this season.


            Before arguing if he is the best ever Premier League defender over the course of the full season, let’s take a look at the numbers of Nemanja Vidic from the iconic 2008/09 season, John Terry from the title winning 2009/10 season and  Vincent Kompany from Manchester City’s title winning 2011/12 season.


 Nemanja Vidic(2008-09)John Terry(2009-10)Vincent Kompany(2011-12)
Clean sheet231715
Goals conceded163021
Last man tackles410
Aerial battles won1288030
Penalties conceded011


            Now that we have the whole picture, the narrative writes itself. One thing immediately pops out from the numbers. Nemanja Vidic was a beast on another level in 2008/09. And without any shadow of a doubt, it can be concluded that Nemanja Vidic was the greatest defender over the course of one full season and probably the greatest defender to ever play in the Premier League.


            Vidic clocked 2.08 interceptions/game, his defense conceded 0.47 goals/game while he made 1.82 tackles/game. What is striking is also the 4 Last man tackles that Vidic. That in itself means that Vidic outright stopped 4 goals on his own. These are champion numbers, something which was rarely ever replicated or seen before.



            In comparison, John Terry managed a whopping 2.37 interceptions/game, his defense conceded 0.81 goals/game while he made 1.75 tackles/game. Vincent Kompany managed an impressive 2.35 interceptions/game while his defense conceded 0.67 goals/game and he made 2.09 tackles per game. In the end, the huge gulf in the number of clearances completed and aerial battles won separated Vidic from him and the rest. Vidic truly was one hell of a defender.


            Now, coming to Virgil Van Dijk, his numbers for interceptions, tackles and clearances are extremely low, with the huge difference between his numbers and that of Nemanja Vidic. But he has been a dominant force in the air, probably coming out better than the rest. But simply calling him the best defender based on his aerial ability is a premature conclusion.


            There is no doubt that Virgil van Dijk is a brilliant defender and a powerful force behind the impressive title challenge mounted by Liverpool. But don’t be fooled by the pundits calling him the best defender ever over the course of the season, because while he is good, he comes nowhere close to Nemanja Vidic, John Terry and even Vincent Kompany all at their peaks in their title winning campaigns.



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