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Spotlight: Virgil van Dijk

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Record defensive transfer VvD takes the well-traveled path from Southampton to Liverpool

Southampton v Everton - Premier League
Run, don’t walk to Liverpool!
Photo by Catherine Ivill/Getty Images

Arms, and the man I sing, who, forc’d by fate,

And haughty Pellegrino’s hate,

Expell’d and exil’d, left the Southampton shore.

And landing in Liverpool is none other than the most expensive defender in futbol history, a Dutch giant who, while not faster than a speeding bullet, is probably more powerful than a locomotive, and is most definitely able to leap tall buildings in a single bound.

Liverpool, stand up and make some noise for the “man I sing”, the amazing Virgil van Dijk!

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Who is VvD?

Virgil van Dijk (VvD) was born in Breda on July 8, 1991 (age 26). He is a tall man, listed at 1.93 m (that’s 6’4’’ for those of us Americans).

VvD started his career with Eredivise’s Groningen where he scored seven goals in 62 appearances before joining Scotland’s Celtic, where he won two successive league titles and the Scottish Cup, adding a further 9 goals from 76 appearances.

VvD earned a move to the Premier League when Southampton paid £13 million for his services in September 2015. After a nervy start, VvD settled alongside his centre-back partner Jose Fonte and scored three goals in 34 appearances. In all, he scored four goals and recorded 18 clean sheets in 67 appearances for the Saints.

VvD’s first season in EPL was arguably his best, with his 2016-17 season cut short by injury, and 2017-18 disrupted by the transfer saga that resulted in his transfer to Liverpool.

VvD has also been capped 16 times by the Dutch national team, although injuries and inactivity have limited his availability and impact.

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What Can We Expect from VvD?

VvD is expected to shore up the patchy Liverpool defense. Over the years he has gained a reputation for calming those around him. Given the relative inexperience (Joe Gomez and Trent Alexander-Arnold), nervy defending (Dejan Lovren, Joel Matip and Alberto Moreno) or mediocrity (Ragnar Klavan) of Liverpool’s defensive corps, VvD’s reputation will surely be put to the test.

To help us better understand VvD and what he might do for Liverpool, let’s take a closer look at his Southampton stats.

2015-16: Appearances (34); Goals (3); Assists (0); Clean sheets (10); Tackle success % (75%); Blocked shots (4); Interceptions (96); Clearances (260); Aerial battles won (163); Aerial battles lost (38); Crosses (2); Own goals (0); Yellow cards (2); Red cards (0)

2016-17: Appearances (21); Goals (1); Assists (0); Clean sheets (7); Tackle success % (77%); Blocked shots (5); Interceptions (54); Clearances (142); Aerial battles won (98); Aerial battles lost (32); Crosses (0); Own Goals (0); Yellow cards (3); Red cards (1)

2017-18: Appearances (12); Goals (0); Assissts (0); Clean sheets (1); Tackle success % (70%); Blocked shots (2); Interceptions (29); Clearances (78); Aerial battles won (60); Aerial battles lost (21); Crosses (1); Own Goals (0, but 1 credited in Togga); Yellow cards (0); Red cards (0)

So yes, VvD’s EPL adventure has been a tale of diminishing returns. So why was Southampton able to turn a £13 million investment into a £75 million windfall? Before we try to answer that question, let’s all agree to not confuse “most expensive defender in the world” with “best defender in the world”. Records have been falling with every transfer window, and VvD will not enjoy his “most expensive” record for long.

Having said that, may I suggest that we also all agree that VvD most definitely passes the “eye test”. Simply put, the man is a head taller than 99.9% of the humans he encounters on a futbol pitch and is elegant in his movement. He looks like a central defender straight out of Central Casting. He can also score skillful goals, as evidenced by his four EPL tallies (two of them headers and the other two with his left foot); he’s also hit the woodwork seven times.

The answer to the question, then, to how Southampton was able to turn a massive profit on VvD is that he is a skilled player at a position of relative scarcity (central defense) and great need among the elite EPL squads (Liverpool, Manchester City, and Chelsea could all use an upgrade in that regard).

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Is VvD an Essential Fantasy Play?

Whether VvD should be part of your fantasy plans depends on the format. In Official, you are relying on clean sheets and goals, both of which are part of the Dutch giant’s repertoire. Eighteen clean sheets in 67 appearances with Southampton (26.8%) is a solid return for a mid-table squad that has bled as much talent as the Saints’ have over the past three years, including VvD’s reliable partner Jose Fonte.

For as bad a reputation as Liverpool’s defense has, the Reds have recorded nine clean sheets in 20 games this season despite employing Butterfingers (Simon Mignolet) in goal. We can expect VvD to at least continue that percentage, and perhaps even improve it by a bit, particularly as Liverpool have badly struggled defending set plays.

The hope for VvD in fantasy is that he starts scoring goals again. We know he can score with his head and left foot, and we can reasonably expect that he’ll be a target for any and all set plays. If we believe in regression to the mean, the fact that VvD last scored on a header in GW 18 2016-17 leads us to confidently expect a goal before the season is out.

One area where VvD stands head-and-shoulders above the competition (pun definitely intended) is in winning aerial duels. The Togga format is particularly favorable to VvD’s fantasy prospects as defenders earn one point per aerial duel won. If we look at the top two current defenders on Togga for aerial duels won, James Tarkowski has 90 in 1620 minutes and Shane Duffy has 87 in 1693 minutes. VvD has 59 in 993 minutes played. In terms of aerial duels won per 90, Liverpool’s new Dutch international comes ahead with 5.31, followed by Tarkowski (4.95) and Duffy (4.59).

VvD’s other strength is interceptions, which are also credited one point in Togga. The pony-tailed Dutchman has 31 in 993 minutes, which equates to approximately 2.81 per 90. The leaders in Togga’s defender scoring are Nacho Monreal with 51 in 1665’ (2.76/90) and Kyle Naughton with 45 in 1788’ (2.27/90).

In Togga, therefore, VvD will be essential. He will be a surefire “Defender-1”, which in most leagues means he will be an elite option as well as a regular fixture on most Perfect XI lineups. From headers and interceptions alone we can expect VvD to score 8 points per game. Add a clean sheet bonus and a few phantoms here and there and he should be a fairly consistent 15-20 point option week in and week out, with a high floor even when he concedes goals in tough matches.

If you are in a Togga league and would like to acquire or move VvD in a trade, I’d say midfielders in the Xherdan Shaqiri or Manuel Lanzini tier or a forward such as Richarlison or Alexandre Lacazette would represent fair value.

It’s a bit harder to call in Official. As of 28 December VvD’s transfer tag was £5.4, is 2% owned and has scored an unimpressive 25 points (with only one game above the three point mark). If I were to wager, I’d say that VvD is not an essential player in Official, but should be a great differential play given his low ownership, modest price tag, and scoring upside.

We began our look at Virgil van Dijk with a short and edited passage from the Ancient Roman poet Virgil’s Aeneid. Virgil also features prominently as Dante’s guide through some rather terrible places in The Divine Comedy. Here’s hoping our VvD guides us to fantasy joy.

And there you have it, our look at the first big transfer of the January window. What do you think about Virgil van Dijk and Liverpool’s new look defense? Are you running to acquire him, or are you scared sick that he’ll crack under the pressure of the “world’s most expensive defender” tag? Share your thoughts in the comments below!