Virgil van Dijk vs Raphael Varane: Who is better?

Tom Gott
Image by Matthew Burt - 90min
Image by Matthew Burt - 90min

In the modern game, there aren't many centre-backs better than Virgil van Dijk and Raphael Varane.

The two defensive titans are now butting heads in the Premier League, with Varane's move to Manchester United lining him up for a battle with Liverpool's dominant Dutchman, and we're dying to see it happen.

And until we do see that, we thought we should take a look at who - on paper anyways - should be considered the better centre-back.


Virgil van Dijk
Van Dijk barks orders on the pitch / Quality Sport Images/GettyImages

If you look at the all-time great centre-backs, most of them have also been true leaders - the kind of player capable of picking his team-mates up and dragging them to glory.

Varane has done his fair share of that in his career, but he often played second-fiddle to Sergio Ramos at Real Madrid and is now doing so with Harry Maguire at United, whereas Van Dijk has stepped up and assumed complete control of Liverpool's backline.

The Reds can look shaky when Van Dijk isn't around - the 2019/20 season made that pretty clear - and it's clear the Dutchman offers far more than just defending.


Image by Matthew Burt - 90min
Image by Matthew Burt - 90min

This is a pretty easy one. Van Dijk may have been the best defender in the world in his prime, but that came when he was 27 years old. Up against most players, that would be fine, but not Varane.

Varane joined Real Madrid at 18, and while he wasn't immediately an elite defender, he didn't take long to blossom into one of the Spanish side's most important players. To manage 360 appearances over a decade and become a core part of Real's history is no mean feat.

A 28-year-old Varane, who is still widely heralded as one of the game's elite, took his talents to United in the summer and looks capable of keeping his dominant form going.


Raphael Varane
Varane is an elite athlete / Soccrates Images/GettyImages

Both of these two are physical specimens. They're giant defenders but with the modern twist of being able to cover ground as fast as players half their size.

Van Dik never shies away from a sprint and will back his ability to match any winger in the world one-on-one, but the difference is Varane might actually be able to beat any winger in the world one-on-one.

During his prime, Varane was an athletic monster who was by far one of the fastest centre-backs the game has ever seen. He'd fly out to the wing to cover for a team-mate and could be back in his favoured spot in the blink of an eye.

Aerial ability

Sadio Mane, Virgil van Dijk
Van Dijk dominates in the air / Michael Regan/GettyImages

Blessed with a 6'4 frame, Van Dijk has all the tools needed to dominate in the air. He's absolutely enormous and knows exactly how to use that to his advantage, seeing off any attacker with his brutal combination of power and timing.

Varane's no slouch in this category, however. At 6'3, he's got the physical tools, and he wins a boatload of headers himself, but there's just something unique about Van Dijk's game that makes him so deadly when the ball is floated his way.

There's absolutely no shame in losing out to Van Dijk in this category.


Virgil Van Dijk
Van Dijk edges it / Soccrates Images/GettyImages

With the scores level after four categories, we put it to 90min's readers to decide which defender is better.

And the results were pretty definitive - with 68.2% of the vote, Virgil van Dijk is your winner!

The article is a part of 90min's Rivals series.