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Van Dijk vs Salah: Who Will Go Down As The Bigger Legend At Liverpool?

by Ozymandias
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There is a saying that heroes are remembered but legends are never forgotten.

The Peles, the Maradonas, the Beckenbauers, the Zidanes, etc.. these names will most likely never be forgotten by football lovers across generations and will forever remain occurring themes.

Jurgen Klopp has less than 50 days to spend as manager of Liverpool and there is no doubt his legacy will live in the hearts of supporters of the Reds way beyond the next 50 years.

For nine amazing years, the German with his soldiers provided one of the most entertaining – if not the most entertaining – playing styles with his gegenpressing tactics. Liverpool are looking to sign out strong this season being that it’s Jurgen Klopp’s last one at Anfield and they have already won one out of four possible trophies.

It will indeed be very difficult to replace the 56-year-old. This is not just in terms of his coaching prowess, but also considering how he won over the hearts of the fans.

One of the many reasons why Jurgen Klopp was a huge asset to Liverpool is the fact that he hardly ever put a foot wrong when it came to signing players. He recruited and transformed the likes of Sadio Mane, Joel Matip, Gini Wijnaldum, Virgil van Dijk, Mo Salah, and others into global superpowers who helped him effectively bring his ideas to life on the pitch while winning numerous trophies along the way.

Captain Virgil van Dijk and Mo Salah are without a doubt among Jurgen Klopp’s two biggest assets since he’s been in charge. In the German’s first two years at Anfield, he has already transformed the Red’s offense but always struggled with upgrading the defense.

This all changed when Liverpool made van Dijk the most expensive defender in the world in January 2018. To say the Dutchman’s presence at the back transformed Liverpool’s defense is an understatement. In his first full season with Liverpool, they kept the most clean sheets in both the Premier League and Champions League. The Reds also went on to win the Champions League title, Klopp’s first trophy as Liverpool manager.

Mo Salah was also an unpolished gem that Klopp turned into one of the finest diamonds around. Many were surprised when Liverpool opted to sign the Egyptian from Roma after he had already had a failed stint at rivals, Chelsea.

With very little time, the winger proved all of his doubters wrong.

In his first season as a Liverpool player, Salah won the Golden Boot and also broke the record for most goals scored in an English Premier League campaign. His goal in the 6-1 win against Sparta Praha in the Europa League was his 20th this season. This means that the Egyptian is the first Liverpool player to score at least 20 goals in 7 consecutive seasons for the club.

What a feat!

Salah and van Dijk. Although they both play vastly different roles, these two players are very important cogs in the machine of Liverpool’s success story over the past ten years. But still, this question has to be answered: when the dust settles, who will be remembered as the bigger Liverpool legend?

First, let’s take a look at the general profile of two of Klopp’s greatest soldiers.

It is rather hard to express in words the impact of van Dijk on Liverpool’s defense since he joined the Reds in 2018. Van Dijk brought stability, leadership, and world-class defending.  His mere presence instilled confidence in his teammates and instilled fear in opponents. 

Salah’s arrival at Anfield unlocked a new dimension to Liverpool’s attack.  His electric pace, dribbling skills, and eye for goal turned him into a global superstar in just one season.  In the past 7 years, he has obliterated numerous records and has the fans chanting his name whenever he gets the ball.

Now let us examine both of their profiles from a deeper perspective.

There is a general saying in sports that your offense wins you games while your defense wins you titles. Even before Klopp became manager, Liverpool had struggled defensively for years. Under Klopp, the Reds still struggled defensively for some years and Klopp found the solution to this problem in the form of van Dijk.

The Dutchman’s coordination at the back has transformed Liverpool into one of the teams in Europe with the best defense. The impact of his presence on the pitch can hardly be overrated. To put this into perspective, when the Liverpool number 4 suffered a knee injury in October 2020 that ruled me out for the remainder of the season, his side’s defense seemed to crumble. It was so bad that Liverpool almost missed out on Champions League qualifications.

The following season, van Dijk had fully recovered from his injury and Liverpool’s defense became formidable again. The Reds even went on to have the most clean sheets in the 2021/22 season.

During the summer of 2023, Jordan Henderson left Liverpool for Saudi Arabia, and van Dijk was made the new captain. If his impact on the team as a defender was immense, his impact as both defender and team captain is out of this world. 

A testament to this is how he inspired the Reds to win the Carabao Cup back in February. Prior to the match against Chelsea, at least 10 senior Liverpool players were unavailable due to injury. Klopp’s side had to make do with a handful of youth players for this match.

Despite this major setback, the Dutchman motivated his side to defeat rivals Chelsea. To sweeten the deal, he even scored the winning goal in the final and went on to lift the trophy.

There is no doubt Salah is one of the most prolific goal machines the Premier League has ever witnessed. His pace and dribbling skills also make him a joy to watch. However, it must be pointed out that with or without Salah, Liverpool has no problem at all scoring goals against their opponents. Before the Egyptian joined the Reds, Liverpool were still finding the net rather easily against their opponents.

Let’s now rewind to January of this year. Liverpool’s number 11 missed most of his side’s matches that month because of AFCON and injury. He also missed a handful of matches in February. His absence didn’t derail Liverpool’s momentum of scoring goals as other attackers (especially Darwin Nunez) stepped up their game. As things stand, Liverpool’s five main attackers (Salah, Darwin Nunez, Diogo Jota, Gakpo, and Luis Diaz) have all scored more than 10 goals across all competitions this season.

The reality is Salah is an amazing goalscorer, however, Liverpool under Klopp’s management is a goal-scoring machine. With or without his services, they will always find a way to maintain their goalscoring momentum.

Both van Dijk and Salah have left an indelible mark on the club’s history, each in their unique way. Van Dijk’s defensive mastery and transformative impact on Liverpool’s backline have solidified his status as a cornerstone of the team’s recent successes. Meanwhile, Salah’s electrifying goalscoring exploits and relentless drive have made him a talismanic figure in Liverpool’s attack.

While Salah’s dazzling footwork and goal-scoring feats will always be treasured, Virgil van Dijk’s influence on Liverpool transcends statistics. His leadership, defensive solidity, and ability to elevate those around him solidify his case as the cornerstone of the club’s recent successes.  

The debate for legendary status will likely continue, but there’s a strong argument to be made that van Dijk’s transformative impact on Liverpool’s defensive foundation will see him remembered as the more impactful legend at Anfield.


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