Liverpool

Three years of Virgil van Dijk: a reminder of where Liverpool were in 2017

Robbie Copeland
Van Dijk on his Liverpool debut
Van Dijk on his Liverpool debut / James Williamson - AMA/Getty Images
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You will never find a stronger indicator of how wrong football fans can be than a Twitter comments section.

Specifically, the Twitter comments section after Liverpool confirmed the signing of Virgil van Dijk in 2017.

"75mil for a defender!?!?? Hahaha Livershit doing it again. Banter club"

Two Towers RedMan

"Funny when he joins Stoke in three seasons for 12 million"

Charlie

"Ahahahahaha he is shite"

Murraysminted75

Scepticism wasn't entirely unreasonable at the time, in fairness. £75m did seem like a hell of a lot for a centre-back, particularly a centre-back who had been dropped to Southampton's reserves just a few months prior after a failed transfer.

He was the signing Jurgen Klopp and Michael Edwards wanted, however, and they were prepared to wait to get him...even if that meant six months of persevering with Ragnar Klavan and Dejan Lovren at centre-back.

The domestic results following his eventual arrival weren't as immediate as history suggests. The Reds were third when Van Dijk made his league debut, and went on to finish fourth.

It was apparent very quickly, however, that he had been the furthest thing from a waste of money.

Liverpool, pre-Van Dijk, weren't a complete disaster, but they were ropey, disjointed, and desperately lacking in defensive leadership. Andy Robertson hadn't yet established himself and Joe Gomez was still covering for Nathaniel Clyne at right-back. Trent Alexander-Arnold, meanwhile, was still green, and not fully trusted.

They weren't losing games all over the shop, but the ones they were came in concerning fashion. The 5-0 smashing at Man City was described as a 'disaster' by Jurgen Klopp, and the 4-1 dismissal by Tottenham at Wembley, just six weeks later, wasn't much better.

At the time, qualifying for the Champions League for a second straight season put enough on their plate; challenging City at the top and actually winning something seemed years in the distance.

In Van Dijk, though, something had been identified that would fairly quickly flip the script. Liverpool didn't need to try him on for size - whatever metric they were using singled him out as the right kind of player, and the right kind of personality, to tie everything together at the back.

He made football look easy and all of a sudden Lovren, alongside the Dutchman's composure and calming influence, looked like a football player. Liverpool looked like something close to a balanced unit, no longer reliant on Roberto Firmino, Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane to outscore the opposition by themselves.

The Reds conceded 28 in the first 23 games of the season and 10 in the final 15. Spot the difference.

Half a season with Van Dijk yielded a run to the Champions League final, though their ultimate failure in Kyiv left Liverpool wondering where a full season with their missing ingredient might have left them. And the next two years would give them the answer they wanted to hear.

A Champions League, a UEFA Super Cup, a Club World Cup and a long-awaited Premier League title later, perhaps the best testament to Van Dijk's three years at Liverpool is how impressive they have been without him. In his injury-enforced absence, the Reds have conceded just six Premier League goals, regaining their spot at the top of the division.

His influence extends far beyond what he does during 90 minutes on the pitch. His mere presence at the club has driven those around him to previously untold heights.

Fabinho, Joel Matip, Rhys Williams, Nathaniel Phillips and Billy Koumetio are getting the job done for now, yet each and every one of them will breathe a sigh of relief when he finally strolls back out onto the pitch.

Without Van Dijk leaping over buildings and spanning the penalty box in a single stride, it just hasn't been the same.

Here's to the next three years.

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