Equal Time: Where was VVD when Liverpool really needed him?
Background photo: CC BY-SA 3
It was a night of champions, a night when people make their names heard across the globe and their worth proven at a larger scale. After Virgil Van Dijk's announcement as the PFA Player of the Year last weekend, the Champions League match against Barcelona was the game in which he was expected to stop the unstoppable, Lionel Messi, as easily and thoroughly as he brushes his teeth every morning. That did not happen. Now you must wonder how good Van Dijk is compared to the best defenders in history. Never mind that Messi's 599th and 600th goals hint that those who came before the Dutchman couldn't stop him either, several questions have been raised as to how Liverpool's defensive saviour does his job.
It bears repeating that the very best defenders all failed to stop Barcelona on days when Messi decides to call the shots, especially at the Camp Nou. Van Dijk failing to give a stellar performance shouldn't diminish his worth in the market.
The most baffling thing is that he appeared reluctant to put in a tackle, more concerned with not allowing Messi to dribble past him. There is a video circulating online in which he could have gone to make a tackle but instead decides to call for help from Andrew Robertson. The defeat against Barcelona could mean the end of Liverpool's Champions League hopes just when it seemed a Blaugrana side overly reliant on their talisman was ripe to be plucked.
Liverpool did not lose 3-0 because Van Dijk failed to mark Messi but his ghost-mode contributed to the loss as much as the Reds failing to take their chances when they came. Yes, it was an audition to prove VVD merits the PFA award and deserves to be mentioned with the game's all-time best defenders. He did not pass that audition.
Did Van Dijk pass up an opportunity to showcase himself or this is the real Van Dijk? is he protected by a vastly improved Liverpool defence surrounding him? One thing is sure, he cannot hide under a great season and claim to be the best. More tests will come, beginning next week when Liverpool's attack must make amends and the rearguard will be much more exposed. He must answer the bell or be judged lacking.
The scrutiny he gets in that match will continue going forward and with each passing game. Nor is that unfair. Stepping up in important matches is how the greatest are always measured.
Natural defenders are a dying breed. Everyone is rated on their ability with the ball now. Van Dijk's reputation is as a defender. He cannot show fear against opponents like Messi. He should be embarrassed that Joel Matip is being feted with Liverpool man of the match honours and has registered more Premier League tackles [36/35] than his partner despite 15 fewer appearances.
There is still time to prove his worth but he doesn't have forever. To get the fans back on his side, Virgil van Dijk must be a force when Barcelona come to Anfield on Tuesday.