Liverpool’s hopes of defending the Premier League title were handed a huge blow following a potentially season-ending injury sustained by Virgil van Dijk, the defender requiring surgery after suffering an anterior cruciate knee ligament problem.
Van Dijk’s importance to the side has been well-documented following his achievements since arriving on Merseyside, establishing himself as arguably the best centre-back in world football and lifting both the Champions League and Premier League in addition to the PFA Player of the Year award.
The Dutch defender is already a hugely popular figure at Anfield, but just where does he rank amongst the best centre-backs to have represented the Reds in the Premier League?
Here are our rankings of Liverpool’s five best centre-backs of the Premier League era:
5. Joel Matip
Jurgen Klopp described the signing of Joel Matip as one of his ‘best pieces of business’ following the defenders’s performances since signing from Schalke, the free transfer addition having played a key part in the Reds’ recent success.
Matip has risen from a place down the centre-back pecking order to becoming one of Liverpool’s most dependable performers when fit, his role in the club’s recent triumphs seeing him edge out the likes of Mark Wright and Stephane Henchoz for a place on this feature.
Keeping him fit has proven the problem, however, though he has shown his qualities when in the side, excelling during the club’s run to Champions League success last year, producing a stand-out display in the final victory over Tottenham.
His towering and gangly frame can make Matip look awkward on occasion but he is a brilliant ball-carrier from deep, stepping into midfield with ease in addition to thriving in aerial challenges.
Klopp will need the Cameroonian to be at his very best ahead of a challenging period, the 29-year-old expected to step up in Van Dijk’s absence this season.
4. Daniel Agger
Agger spent eight seasons as a Liverpool player and was regarded as a classy operator at the heart of the defence, the Denmark international oozing confidence as he stepped out of the backline in possession.
The centre-back possessed a fine passing range and distributed the ball superbly, in addition to scoring some spectacular highlight reel goals from distance throughout his time in the Premier League.
Like Matip, injuries sadly hindered his progress and prevented Agger from reaching his true potential, but there is no disputing he was amongst the club’s key performers when operating at full fitness.
Left foot. 🙌
3⃣0⃣ yards. 👊
— Liverpool FC (@LFC) December 12, 2018
He won a solitary League Cup in a career that perhaps could and should have delivered more, Agger amongst the finest pieces of business in the Rafael Benitez era, signing for a fee of just £6m from Brondy and making 232 appearances in all competitions before returning to his former side.
3. Sami Hyypia
Amongst the shrewdest investments made by any side throughout the Premier League era, Sami Hyypia arrived at Liverpool as a relative unknown from Dutch side Willem II for a figure of just £2.6m shortly before the turn of the millennium.
Few had heard much about the towering Finland international, but he soon made a major impression at Anfield, helping to solidify a backline that had lacked presence and instantly establishing himself as a fans’ favourite.
Hyypia became a bedrock of the side under Gerard Houllier and played a crucial role in the club’s FA Cup, League Cup and UEFA Cup success in 2001, sharing the captaincy throughout the campaign and briefly taking on the role permanently prior to the appointment of Steven Gerrard.
He remained a key figure in the side during Rafael Benitez’s reign and won both the Champions League and FA Cup under the Spaniard, spending a decade with the Reds and making 464 appearances in all competitions.
2. Jamie Carragher
One of the great one-club players of the modern era, only the great Ian Callaghan has ever made more appearances in a Liverpool shirt than Jamie Carragher.
The defender came through the club’s academy ranks and formed part of the Scouse heartbeat of the side throughout a career of both great longevity and success, winning seven major honours and impressing with his leadership and full-blooded commitment.
Carragher was initially a utility player during his early years before settling at centre-back, the defender a player who extracted the maximum from his natural talents and won hero status on the terraces with his dedicated defensive displays.
Intelligent in his organisation and reading of the game, it is important not to overlook those attributes when assessing Carragher and his career, though it is difficult to escape the narrative of the local lad done good who was forever willing to put his body on the line for the cause.
1. Virgil van Dijk
The current leader of the backline and a player whose long-term injury has left an irreplaceable void in the Liverpool defence at present, Virgil van Dijk has had a transformative impact upon the Reds since signing from Southampton in January 2018.
Van Dijk became the world’s most expensive defender when arriving on Merseyside, but has proved well worth the record-breaking investment, instantly improving a rearguard that had long struggled for solidity.
The Dutchman has since helped Liverpool to successive Champions League finals – winning the latter against Tottenham in 2019 – and a first league title in three decades, his first full season at the club seeing him become just the third defender to win the PFA Player of the Year award in the Premier League era.
Van Dijk also finished as the runner-up for the Ballon d’Or last year and has exuded effortless class in a Liverpool shirt to date, the Netherlands captain physically imposing and possessing the technical ability to launch attacks from deep.
Alongside captain Jordan Henderson he is the leader of the current side and has been vital to their recent success, his prolonged absence a huge blow to the Reds’ hopes as they bid for further silverware this season.