‘I don’t agree with that at all…’ – Pundit defends Liverpool star after widespread criticism

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In a week which has seen him ship some rather stinging criticism, Virgil van Dijk has now seen one pundit leap to his defence.

The Liverpool centre-back endured a testing week on the international front with Netherlands, who were thrashed 4-0 by France in their opening Euro 2024 qualifier and followed it up with a laboured 3-0 win at home to Group B minnows Gibraltar.

Dutch legends Marco van Basten and Ruud Gullit both put the boot into the 31-year-old in recent days. The former moaned on Ziggo Sport that the Reds colossus ‘makes noise, but he doesn’t say anything’, while the latter accused him of metaphorically ‘walking backwards’ (via Football365).

Perhaps the strongest criticism, though, came from former AZ Alkmaar boss Gertjan Verbeek saying on Omrop Fryslân (via SoccerNews.nl) that Van Dijk was a ‘wimp’ and should lose the national team captaincy.

Amid the flurry of negative reviews coming the Liverpool man’s way, former Ajax forward Kenneth Perez has spoken out in his defence.

He told ESPN’s Football Talk (via Sport Witness) in response to the slating of the 31-year-old: “I don’t agree with that at all. He has set the bar so incredibly high that every little beauty flaw is seen as a grave error.

“He was fantastic every game in a two-year period. Nobody got past him, he was never injured… Nobody dared to look for him anymore, because it was hopeless anyway.

“To say he can’t do anything anymore and that it’s too little… He’s at a slightly more normal level now, he’s been at such a high level. That was the benchmark, but nobody can sustain that his whole career.”

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Amid the torrent of criticism being sent Van Dijk’s way, Perez’s words provide a beacon of sense.

Perhaps the Liverpool defender has been culpable of some uncharacteristic errors this season, but it’s undeniable that he’s been one of the best players in his position ever since he came to Anfield five years ago.

He memorably went 50 games without once being dribbled past, a period spanning 17 months (via talkSPORT), which was a phenomenal achievement considering that the run included the entire 2018/19 Premier League season, in which he played all but 35 minutes for the Reds (Transfermarkt).

Even over the last 12 months, Van Dijk can claim to be among the finest exponents of his profession in Europe.

In that timeframe, he ranks in the top 1% of centre-backs across the continent’s five main leagues for aerial duel win rate (77.9%), the top 10% for aerial duels won per match (2.96) and the top 15% for pass success rate (89.6%), as per FBref.

Perez is quite right to recognise that the Liverpool number four is still a quality operator, and his point about the Dutchman being overly castigated for rare mistakes after setting the bar so high is a very fair one.

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