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Bayern vs Liverpool: Virgil van Dijk's next-level Champions League performance shows he can become one of the greats

The Independent logo The Independent 14/3/2019 Miguel Delaney
a man holding a ball © Provided by Independent Digital News & Media Limited

Given all the praise coming Virgil van Dijk’s way, not least from Liverpool’s owner John Henry, Jurgen Klopp didn’t want to go completely overboard.

“Van Dijk was involved in the goal of Bayern as well, so what a night,” the manager chuckled.

A little harsh, but it also emphasises the ludicrously high level Van Dijk has reached. He has made his Liverpool teammates expect perfection from him.

That’s how good he’s become. That’s his effect on the squad. He sweeps up so much, but now also starts up so much.

That was what felt next-level about his performance against Bayern. It wasn’t just that he barely gave their attackers a sniff when they got near him. It was how he was instrumental to the goals that really won the tie, setting up the first, and scoring the second.

That header was also as symbolic as it was significant. Just as no Bayern player could go as high as Van Dijk, there’s an increasing argument that no other centre-half can either.

It really isn’t just Liverpool supporters getting ahead of themselves. Van Dijk might genuinely have gone ahead of everyone else in the game.

Go through it. Look around the Champions League.

a man standing in front of a crowd: Virgil Van Dijk celebrates in Munich (REUTERS) © Provided by Independent Digital News & Media Limited Virgil Van Dijk celebrates in Munich (REUTERS)

Diego Godin and Sergio Ramos are now arguably past their best, as emphasised by the crumbling defences around, and the fact the Uruguayan is leaving Atletico Madrid for Internazionale in the summer and Ramos’s own Real Madrid future is uncertain. The next generation like Kalidou Koulibaly and Milan Skriniar aren’t quite as complete, and Gerard Pique just doesn’t have the same overall influence.

Giorgio Chiellini is maybe his closest competitor right now, but Van Dijk can pretty much offer any of the defiance he can, and there’s simultaneously so much Van Dijk can do that the Italian can’t.

This is what is genuinely so impressive about the 27-year-old, and what this match against Bayern Munich emphasised. He is almost several centre-halves in one.

To look at him, you would most associate with the commanding lightning rod, who wins everything in the air in such a steely way. And yet an even more influential part of his game is a supreme ability to just cover so much ground so quickly. That is almost Franco Baresi-like.

To add to the similarities to past greats, as much as the best right now, there was then that pass for Sadio Mane. It was what we used to see so often from Ronald Koeman. It was perfect. It showed he can so combine the dirty with pristine. This of course isn’t to say he is yet at the level of such legends, but there’s just so much there.

And it has maybe made Liverpool the best defence left in the competition. Juventus might argue with that, but that alone is the influence of Van Dijk. It might be even more influential in the competition, given that this is an era where chaos reigns and so few can defend properly. Van Dijk can do more than that.

a group of baseball players standing on top of a grass covered field: Van Dijk celebrates his goal (Bongarts/Getty) © Provided by Independent Digital News & Media Limited Van Dijk celebrates his goal (Bongarts/Getty)

“You can write a book about him,” Klopp eventually enthused, giving in. “He is so young, but so mature.”

But.

“Virge knows he can play better than he did tonight, but tonight he played as good as necessary and possible.”

That in itself should be ominous. It is why, even if Klopp didn’t want to go overboard, everyone else who knows Van Dijk is.

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