Barcelona legend Lionel Messi has revealed why he struggled so much against Liverpool centre back Virgil van Dijk in the two teams’ Champions League semi-final second leg last season.
Although the Argentine international scored twice in the first leg at the Nou Camp, he didn’t get a sniff at Anfield as Van Dijk and co. helped steer the Reds to an eventual European Cup triumph.
Now, Messi has discussed the imperious Dutchman: “He is a defender who knows how to judge his timing and wait for the right moment to challenge or jockey [the attacker],” he told Marca.
“He is very fast and big, but he has a lot of agility for his height. He is fast because of its great stride, and he is impressive both in defence and attack because he scores lots of goals.”
There is no better endorsement a defender can get than one from the greatest footballer the world has ever seen. Messi is an attacker extraordinaire, as we all know, and so for him to rave over Van Dijk’s defensive ability is quite something for the Dutchman. Although Messi bagged a brace in the first leg last season, he didn’t have a kick in the second leg. Yes, that’s because the Reds were attacking relentlessly, but it was also because he was kept quiet by Van Dijk and co. in the Liverpool backline. The statistics bore out almost everything Messi says about the Reds’ star. As per WhoScored.com, the 28-year-old is averaging 1.4 interceptions and 5.3 clearances per game in the Premier League this campaign, while he is only being dribbled past 0.3 times per outing. He’s so hard to get past because his formidable strength is matched by tremendous pace. It’s tough for even the quickest attackers to get behind him, and he does bag a few goals as well.