Virgil van Dijk name-drops Messi and four others when asked for his toughest ever opponent

  • Kobe Tong
Van Dijk takes on Messi.

Virgil van Dijk takes on all comers.

The Liverpool juggernaut is one of the greatest centre-backs in football history and many of the world’s finest forwards have found going up against him an impossible task.

From his immaculate one-on-defending to electrifying football IQ, Van Dijk is ahead of the game when it comes to finding a million and one ways to stop a world-class opponent.

The brilliance of Van Dijk

However, just because Van Dijk can seemingly stop every striker and their dog, that doesn’t mean that certain forwards cause him more of a headache than others.

Footage of the 30-year-old keeping pace with Kylian Mbappe before landing the perfect slide tackle might look straightforward, but it’s the product of hard work, grit and intelligence.

The simple fact of the matter is that anything less than 100% concentration isn’t good enough if you want to go 90 minutes without even giving the striker a split-second to get the better of you.

Van Dijk captaining Liverpool.
Soccer Football – Premier League – Wolverhampton Wanderers v Liverpool – Molineux Stadium, Wolverhampton, Britain – December 4, 2021 Liverpool’s Virgil van Dijk wears the captains arm band after Jordan Henderson was substituted Action Images via Reuters/Carl Recine 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.

Who is Van Dijk’s toughest opponent?

And Van Dijk gave a tantalising insight into which strikers have forced him to focus the most when they’ve played each other during a chat with Rio Ferdinand for BT Sport.

Not only did the Dutchman provide fascinating tactical insight and his ultimate five-a-side team in world football, but he also took on the question: who is the toughest opponent you’ve ever faced?

And while, unfortunately, Van Dijk didn’t settle upon a definitive answer, he did namedrop five opponents that he clearly thinks gave him a harder time than most across his career.

“Aguero was obviously unbelievable,” Van Dijk pondered. “Messi, arguably the best player in the history of football in my opinion. Mbappe is different, quick… Haaland and also Darwin. He’s a bit similar – very direct, quick, tall, strong and it’s quite difficult to play against him.”

Interesting, very interesting.

An interesting selection of players

Cristiano Ronaldo is certainly conspicuous by his absence and although he more than likely still ranks highly amongst Van Dijk’s toughest opponents, he clearly wasn’t the first player who came to mind.

It’s no secret that Van Dijk is an admirer of Messi, so his inclusion felt like something of an inevitability, but there seemed to be a focus on the next generation from that point onwards.

Van Dijk essentially gives credence to all the hype around Mbappe and Haaland as future Ballon d’Or winners, while also showing exactly why there’s so much excitement around Nunez right now.

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, perhaps the most important thing to take from Van Dijk’s answer is that he wasn’t able to name anybody that he hasn’t at least dominated once – and that just sums up his own brilliance.

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