Liverpool‘s exciting 1-0 win over West Ham United on Saturday not only kept them hot on the heels of title rivals Manchester City, but it also saw Virgil van Dijk break a Premier League record that has stood since the 1990s.
Van Dijk, 30, led the Liverpool defence to help seal the result, and in doing so he took his run of unbeaten league matches at Anfield since making his debut for the Reds to 60.
That’s right: The Netherlands international is yet to lose a single home Premier League game (W52, D8) since completing his £75 million transfer from Southampton in January 2018, surpassing a record set by former Manchester United winger Lee Sharpe a quarter of a century ago.
Sharpe managed to go 59 Premier League games (W47, D12) for United after making his competition debut in November 1992 before experiencing his first home defeat. That run spanned four whole seasons before coming to an end in the Red Devils’ first home game of the 1996-97 campaign, a 2-0 defeat against Sheffield on Wednesday at Old Trafford. Sharpe actually made his first-team debut for United four years earlier in 1988 while he was still just 17 years old. So, as impressive as his Premier League home record was, you could say he held it on a technicality.
Van Dijk has made himself the general of Liverpool’s Anfield fortress in the Premier League, dominating not only the heart of the pitch but also the left-hand side of the pitch over the course of his 60 home league appearances.
He has scored nine goals over the course of those appearances. No prizes for guessing how the 6-foot-4 centre-back netted most of them: All but one of them have been headers, with the outlier coming against Southampton in November when Saints failed to clear a corner and Van Dijk hammered a right-footed volley home while standing right on the penalty spot.
Six of the best
Here we have a look through van Dijk’s previous home league games for Liverpool and pick out six of the classy centre-back’s best performances in front of his own fans.
Having also played in Liverpool’s 5-0 trouncing of Watford the previous season, van Dijk & Co. repeated the feat at Anfield during the 2018-19 campaign. Top of the table since mid-December, the Reds had faltered to drop six points in their previous four games, handing rivals Manchester City a boost in the title race. However, Jurgen Klopp’s side ensured they ended the day a point above City with an effervescent display against the Hornets, racking up their biggest win of the season. Van Dijk was near-flawless at both ends of the pitch, winning all five of his aerial duels, completing 89.6% of his passes and scoring two headed goals.
2. Outnumbered: Liverpool 2-1 Tottenham Hotspur (March 31, 2019)
This pulsating top-four clash in the run-in of the 2018-19 season saw Liverpool snatch victory from the jaws of defeat and move two points clear at the top of the table with six games left to play. As well as a 90th-minute own goal sealing three points for the Reds, the game at Anfield also featured one of the most memorable defensive power plays of van Dijk’s career.
With Tottenham having cancelled out Roberto Firmino‘s early opener with Lucas Moura‘s 70th-minute tap-in, the visitors pushed hard in search of a winner and forged a golden chance when Moussa Sissoko and Son Heung-Min broke on the counter-attack with just one defender to beat. Unfortunately for the rampaging Spurs pair, that one defender was van Dijk.
The Dutchman stood his ground between the pair, subtly positioning himself to both put pressure on Sissoko with the ball and cut off the route for square pass to Son, before picking exactly the right moment to fully pressure Sissoko into firing a shot on his weaker foot harmlessly over the bar.
Van Dijk’s ability to successfully nullify an attack while physically outnumbered has become a quintessential example of his defensive nous — and, what’s more, he also ended up on the winning side thanks to Toby Alderweireld‘s unfortunate own goal in stoppage time.
— Professional Footballers’ Association (@PFA) April 28, 2019
Unfortunately for Liverpool, they eventually finished one point behind City after a tense title run-in, thus extending the Reds’ long wait to claim a first Premier League title by another year. Though that didn’t prevent van Dijk from being named PFA Player of the Year for 2018-19, narrowly pipping City forward Raheem Sterling to the honour and becoming the first defender to win the award since John Terry in 2004-05.
3. Performance of champions: Liverpool 3-1 Manchester City (Nov. 10, 2019)
After the disappointment of missing out on the title the previous year despite amassing 97 points, Liverpool began the 2019-20 campaign meaning business. They had won all but one of their 12 league games (the other result being a 1-1 draw at Old Trafford) when they welcomed City to Anfield. The defending champions didn’t know what hit them as early goals from Fabinho and Mohamed Salah put Liverpool up 2-0 within 15 minutes, but van Dijk more than played his part in sealing the win.
The first of the defender’s seven ball recoveries came when he kept a cool head inside his own area to win the ball back and start the passage of play that ultimately ended in Fabinho’s opening goal, while his block from Angelino‘s attempted shot from close range as the half-hour mark approached helped keep his side’s 2-0 lead intact. Midway through the second half, van Dijk nicked the ball off of Kevin De Bruyne to prevent the midfielder with a clear shot from 12 yards, and overall his nine clearances from inside his own area contributed a hugely significant result in Liverpool’s bid to end their 30-year wait for a league title.
Knowing that even the scrappiest of midweek wins would effectively seal a truly historic title win for the club, the pressure was on when Liverpool welcomed Crystal Palace to Anfield at the tail end of the 2019-20 season, which had been delayed due to the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. Sure enough, Klopp’s side dispatched the Eagles in brutal fashion to move to within a metaphorical inch of getting their hands on silverware that had eluded them for 30 long years.
Van Dijk was instrumental, leading from the back with 145 touches and eight ball recoveries. He also displayed an array of progressive passing, ending the game with a 92.9% completion rate overall that rose to 100% in Palace’s third of the pitch. In total, the Dutchman attempted 140 passes in 90 minutes against Palace — the second-highest tally of his home league career with Liverpool, having attempting 141 against Sheffield United in January 2020 with a 95% completion rate.
The win at Anfield left City needing to beat Chelsea the following night, but a 2-1 defeat at Stamford Bridge handed the Reds’ their first top-flight title since 1989-90. Just to cap it off on an individual level, van Dijk also finished the season as the only Liverpool player to play every single minute of every single league game throughout their championship-winning campaign.
5. Sweeping up: Liverpool 1-1 Chelsea (Aug. 28, 2021)
The points were split between Liverpool and Chelsea in a frenetic encounter early this season that saw the heavyweight pair end the afternoon as joint league leaders. Kai Havertz had put the visitors ahead 22 minutes in with a looping header, but Salah kept his cool and equalised from the penalty spot in first-half injury time after Reece James was sent off by VAR for swatting away Sadio Mane‘s goal-bound effort with his hand.
Liverpool then went after Chelsea in the second half as the visitors were unable to lay a glove on their hosts in retaliation, largely thanks to van Dijk forming a wall between them and Alisson‘s goal.
The centre-back won 100% of his tackles, duels and aerial contests over the 90 minutes against the reigning European champions. He also made an astonishing 17 ball recoveries, by far the most he’s ever made in a league game for Liverpool, six more than in a 2-0 victory over Manchester United in January 2019.
6. Premier League century: Liverpool 3-0 Crystal Palace (Sept. 18, 2021)
After missing all but five games of the 2020-21 season with a cruciate ligament injury, van Dijk was forced to wait a little longer than he would have liked to bring up his century of Premier League appearances for Liverpool.
The big day finally came at Anfield last September and, naturally, it ended with the Dutch defender on the winning side as the Reds’ galloped to a 3-0 win over Palace.
As well as once again winning 100% of his seven aerial duels, van Dijk even managed to mark his 100th Premier League game for Liverpool by laying on a rare assist, flicking on a corner for Salah to volley home his side’s second of the afternoon from the edge of the 6-yard box.