Virgil van Dijk says playing street football is how he learned to defend one-on-one

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Virgil van Dijk is widely considered the best defender in world football right now, and he has the statistics to back it up.

The Dutchman played all but 35 minutes of Liverpool’s Premier League and Champions League matches for the 2018-19 season.

During those appearances, Van Dijk played a leading role in ensuring Jurgen Klopp's side conceded just 34 goals across both competitions - 22 in the league and 12 in Europe.

The PFA Player of the Year kept a total of 26 clean sheets last term, though let’s not forget, he chipped in six goals and four assists to boot.

Van Dijk’s most impressive achievement, however, derives from his knack for defending one-on-one.

It’s well-publicised that not a single defender got the better of the 6’4” defender throughout his 50 appearances, but how did he do it?

Well, while most would point to his formidable combination of power and speed, Van Dijk says the reason lies in his five-a-side experience.

“I have had the benefit of a lot of one-v-ones by playing a lot on the streets,” he told UniSport.

“I played in a lot of five-a-side games when I was younger and I loved to attack in those days as well, so you got a bit of a feeling how attackers might think in certain situations.

“Obviously that comes with experience in my professional career too, but I think if you want to progress as a defender or an attacker, then just keep playing in the streets with your friends.”

Tottenham Hotspur v Liverpool - UEFA Champions League Final

For a man who was literally unbeatable last season, Van Dijk is remarkably modest about his journey to the top.

Reflecting on what he’s learned over the course of his career, he said: “The best advice I've got is to stay humble, keep working hard and enjoy every bit of the way because before you know it, it is all going to be over and you do not want to have any regrets.

“That is the most important thing I would tell young players now because that is the most important thing that is staying in my mind.”

Van Dijk has arguably secured legendary status at Anfield just 18 months after his £75 million switch from Southampton.

Now with a Champions League medal around his neck, the Netherlands international will be hoping he has a Premier League equivalent to match this time in 2020.

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