For the second season in a row, Napoli and Liverpool have been drawn in the same group in the UEFA Champions League. The matchup also two of the best central defenders in Europe face off when Napoli's Kalidou Koulibaly takes the field against Liverpool star Virgil van Dijk.
The Senegal international was recently in the news for unfortunate reasons, having scored an own-goal that decided the seven-goal thriller between Napoli and Juventus. But Europe is well aware of his capabilities, given top clubs were pushing for his signatures for two transfer windows in a row, only to be put off by a huge asking fee by Napoli.
On the other hand, Van Dijk stole the limelight ahead of Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo at the UEFA awards event after he beat them to the Men’s Player of the Year award. That said, there’s not much separating the two solid defenders when they get going.
As the two players prepare to take each other on in the two Group stage games yet again, the neutrals will be treated to contrasting, yet effective, types of defending. It has a lot to do with their individual preferences and the contrasting style of play between Napoli and Liverpool.
Koulibaly averaged 2.5 tackles and 2.0 interceptions per game in the six games in the Group stage last season. These numbers are impressive and a reflection of how the Senegalese defender wrestles for the balls and comes out on top more often than not.
Van Dijk could manage just 0.2 tackles and 0.3 interceptions per game in the same period. The Dutch centre-back does not fly into tackles and relies on his astute positioning and game reading that sees him stay ahead of forwards more often than not.
An objective call can’t be taken as to who is the superior defender. What matters is which player is more effective on the pitch in the crunch tie that could decide the group winners.