Virgil van Dijk vs Rio Ferdinand: Who has better Premier League stats in their prime?

Van Dijk scores for Liverpool.

Virgil van Dijk is one of the greatest defenders in Premier League history.

While neutral fans might want to see the Liverpool star playing at a world-class standard for a few more years before he’s truly considered in the league’s GOAT debate, Van Dijk’s stature in the English game is unquestionable.

The simple fact that he came within a handful of votes of becoming the first defender to win the Ballon d’Or since Fabio Cannavaro lets you know just how game-changing he’s been at Anfield.

Van Dijk earns impressive comparisons

In fact, the Premier League has arguably never seen a better individual season from a centre-back than the one that Van Dijk produced during the 2018/19 campaign.

Winning the Champions League, PFA Players’ Player of the Year award and not getting dribbled past once, the Dutchman was the closest thing many people have seen to a note-perfect defender.

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However, that’s not necessarily the opinion that everybody subscribes to and one of the biggest debates to emerge from Van Dijk’s ascension has seen him compared to Nemanja Vidic.

It’s a natural debate in many ways with Vidic having also been a darling of the individual awards, winning two Premier League Player of the Season crowns, while also playing for Liverpool’s arch enemies.

We shouldn’t be surprised that the sheer mention of ‘Van Dijk vs Vidic’ gets everybody talking because of how perfectly it pits Manchester United and Liverpool fans up against one another.

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Virgil van Dijk vs Rio Ferdinand?

However, in many ways, perhaps the fairer comparison between legendary Liverpool and United centre-backs is actually Van Dijk and Rio Ferdinand.

Regardless of which player you think was better out of Vidic and Ferdinand, the latter’s playing style better reflects that of Van Dijk in its impetus on ball-playing ability and general completeness.

For all the magnificence of defenders like Vidic, John Terry and Jaap Stam, you’d be hard-pressed to say that there has been a more well-rounded Premier League centre-back than Ferdinand and Van Dijk.

That doesn’t necessarily make them better per se, but that cocktail of defensive mettle and deftness on the ball which they both channelled makes them very interesting to compare.

Ferdinand lifts the Premier League trophy.
Football – Manchester United v Swansea City – Barclays Premier League – Old Trafford – 12/5/13 Manchester United’s Rio Ferdinand (C), Anderson and team mates celebrate winning the Barclays Premier League with the trophy Mandatory Credit: Action Images / Jason Cairnduff Livepic EDITORIAL USE ONLY. No use with unauthorized audio, video, data, fixture lists, club/league logos or live services. Online in-match use limited to 45 images, no video emulation. No use in betting, games or single club/league/player publications. Please contact your account representative for further details.

Comparing their prime Premier League stats

So, just in the way we’ve done between Van Dijk and Vidic in the past, we’ve decided to contrast the Liverpool juggernaut’s greatest season in the Premier League so far to a prime Ferdinand.

And when it comes to picking a peak year from Ferdinand’s stunning back catalogue that can go up against Van Dijk, we needn’t look any further than the 2007/08 campaign.

Winning both the Premier League and Champions League, Ferdinand was so excellent across his 51 matches in the famous red jersey that season that he made his first and only appearance in the FIFA FIFPro World XI.

Therefore, we turned to the Premier League’s official player comparison tool and saw who came out on top between 2018/19 Van Dijk and 2007/08 Ferdinand starting with their defensive statistics below:

Van Dijk and Ferdinand's defensive stats.

Wowsers. Just like the Vidic vs Van Dijk comparison, it’s a pretty clear win for Ferdinand.

Well, at least, depending on how you look at things because there’s an argument to be made that the way 2018/19 Liverpool played meant that fewer interceptions, tackles and so forth were expected from their defenders.

And the fact that Van Dijk ultimately has more clean sheets to his name means that it’s not quite as simple as counting up how many statistics each player has topped.

What about attacking and team-play stats?

Plus, in the interest of complete coverage, let’s also take a look at how Van Dijk and Ferdinand compare in the attacking and team-play data sets given their respective renown for ball-playing skills:

Van Dijk and Ferdinand's attacking stats.
Van Dijk and Ferdinand's team-play stats.

There’s not too much to write home about in the attacking numbers, but it couldn’t be any clearer that Van Dijk gets the better of his United rival when it comes to passing and collaboration.

Who claims the victory?

As such, despite defeat in the defensive stats that still include more clean sheets, as well as superior team-play data, is there good reason to believe that prime Van Dijk was better than peak Ferdinand?

Well, that’s up for you to decide because although statistics are as objective as they come, how you interpret them and what you do with them is almost completely subjective.

Liverpool's Van Dijk warms up.
Soccer Football – Premier League – Newcastle United v Liverpool – St James’ Park, Newcastle, Britain – April 30, 2022 Liverpool’s Virgil van Dijk during the warm up before the match REUTERS/Scott Heppell EDITORIAL USE ONLY. No use with unauthorized audio, video, data, fixture lists, club/league logos or ‘live’ services. Online in-match use limited to 75 images, no video emulation. No use in betting, games or single club /league/player publications. Please contact your account representative for further details.

However, you’d forgive us for leaning towards Van Dijk when you consider there’s one key statistic that the Premier League didn’t consider: Ballon d’Or placement.

While Van Dijk only finished seven votes behind Lionel Messi on the back of his stellar 2018/19 campaign, Ferdinand didn’t even make the 30-man list of nominees after his 2007/08 output. Make of that what you will.

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