Introducing Eurosport’s new series: The Debate. Each week, four writers will argue a set topic from Monday to Thursday before having their views picked apart in a vodcast on Friday. Then it’s over to you to choose our winner via a poll on Twitter! We begin with the race for men’s PFA Player of the Year. Ben Snowball is up first with the case for Virgil van Dijk…
Scribble out anyone who doesn’t play for Liverpool on your ballot paper.
No amount of assists from Kevin De Bruyne, goals from Jamie Vardy or fantasy points from John Lundstrum can compete with Liverpool’s all-star cast.
Jordan Henderson is the romantic pick for PFA Player of the Year. The man who "runs with his knees" has bounced back after being written off, grown into the captain’s armband and become one of Jurgen Klopp’s most trusted disciples. It will be his iconic trophy jig that will finally consign Liverpool’s title pain to history.
Sadio Mane is the smart pick. The Senegalese, who only recently realised he would receive a winners’ medal, proved the architect of Liverpool’s blistering start as Roberto Firmino and Mo Salah flitted in-and-out of form. Without his 14 goals and seven assists, we might still have a title race.
Trent Alexander-Arnold is the wildcard pick. The 21-year-old has already equalled his assists record for a defender (12) and while he still needs to mature defensively, is one of the most dangerous and versatile players in European football. It’s his creativity that has often broken the deadlock, his wicked right boot forcing defenders to face their goal again and again.
Manager of Liverpool Jurgen Klopp with Virgil van Dijk of Liverpool at the end of the Premier League match between Leicester City and Liverpool FC at King Power Stadium on December 26, 2019 in Leicester, United Kingdom
Image credit: Getty Images
Virgil van Dijk is the correct pick. The Dutchman’s arrival on Merseyside has proved the biggest boost to Liverpool’s title push. It’s no coincidence that his 27 months have yielded two Champions League finals – winning one – and their two finest Premier League campaigns. After imposing such high standards last season, winning the PFA gong in his first full season, his performances have fallen under the radar behind the aforementioned trio of Henderson, Mane and Alexander-Arnold.
But when a team sheet is released, no one is piping up with 'we don’t have a chance, Jordan Henderson is starting'. You can bet they are saying it about Van Dijk. His presence has lifted those around him, transforming a defence from liability to sturdy as Joe Gomez, Joel Matip and even Dejan Lovren look assured playing second fiddle. Alexander-Arnold and Andy Robertson frequently change games with their assists, but they can play as extra wingers in the knowledge Van Dijk is covering behind.
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The 28-year-old has started every game of an extraordinary campaign that has seen Liverpool leak just 21 goals, four fewer than their closest challengers. The clean sheets are down from last season, but the aura remains around his defence.
Just remember where Liverpool used to be: punchlines revolving around Lovren’s mistakes and Gerrard’s despair. Even Klopp was under pressure, failing to replicate the title challenge that came under predecessor Brendan Rodgers. Then Van Dijk signed. Fourth in his first half-season. Then second with a record points haul. Now, surely, champions.
And it’s why when the season finally concludes and the votes are cast, it should be Van Dijk who gets the nod over his colleagues. Without him, none of this would be possible. Can you be certain that rings true for his teammates?