Liverpool allowed 38 goals in the 2017-18 Premier League season, but only eight in the 15 games van Dijk started. When goalkeeper Alisson Becker joined the club for 2018-19, the goals-allowed total plunged to 22 for the season, with 21 clean sheets.”Isn’t everything written about that?” manager Jurgen Klopp asked when the subject of van Dijk’s excellence was broached again. “Good player, good person — it’s awkward to say the same things so often. But it’s part of my life, and so I should get used to it, actually.”Virg was the constant figure in that last line. It felt always good when you saw he’s there. He organized a lot of things on the pitch. One reason is because he wants to make life easier for him. But the other reason, and the other reason is, because it’s right. He’s a fantastic player, and a pretty good signing.” Virgil van Dijk, to date, has scored six goals in this calendar year: two in the UEFA Champions League and three in the Premier League for Liverpool FC, and one in a World Cup qualifier for the Netherlands. He still has another four months to bolster that number before the award is presented, but everyone involved recognizes he could play brilliantly and not score once. A dozen seasons of world soccer have passed since the award known as the Ballon d’Or has been won by someone whose primary duty does not consist of getting the ball past the goalkeeper and into the net.A whole lot of people who do not speak French understand Ballon d’Or translates as “the best footballer on the planet.” The question for 2019 is whether someone who rarely scores can be deserving of the sport’s highest honor. Watch Liverpool vs. Sporting live on fuboTV (7-day free trial) His job as a center back is to keep the other team from scoring, and no field player is doing that better. He handled those duties well enough to be named Premier League Player of the Season for 2018-19. He does it all so well the trophy that has been almost the exclusive province of Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi since 2008 might find its way to a defender for the first time since Fabio Cannavaro was chosen for his brilliant World Cup performance in 2006.Wednesday at Yankee Stadium (8 p.m., TNT), van Dijk will be with Liverpool for the final game of its one-week preseason tour of the United States, which will be contested against Sporting CP of Portugal. The first competitive game of the season for LFC will come Sunday, Aug. 4, against Manchester City in the FA Community Shield, and Liverpool’s 2019-20 Premier League season opens Aug. 9 with a home game against Norwich City.Is van Dijk currently the best player on the planet?”He has the head. He has the legs. He has the quality on the ball. He’s very powerful in the air,” Liverpool great Sami Hypia told Sporting News. “I think he’s one of the most complete defenders at the moment. Certainly he deserved to be the best player in the Premier League, and let’s see now if he can extend that to winning the Ballon d’Or, as well.”Ronaldo won the award five times since 2008. Messi won it five times. They finished 1-2 in the balloting nine times in 10 years. But Ronaldo’s 21 goals for Juventus in Serie A and six in Champions League play were similar to many other attacking players in Europe, and Juventus was eliminated from the UCL quarterfinals. Messi produced 36 goals in La Liga and 12 in the Champions League and thus remains a viable candidate, but the specter of Barca’s collapse in the UCL semis — and Messi’s helplessness on that night – lingers. Messi also experienced another frustrating finish with Argentina at the Copa America.Van Dijk does not have obvious, gaudy statistics to impress the voters for the award, primarily journalists who cover the sport.He does have the obscure, nerdy stats they might notice if they’re paying attention. For instance, Opta declared after Liverpool’s victory in the 2019 Champions League that no opponent in van Dijk’s last 64 appearances for the Reds had successfully completed a dribble past him. That’s a staggering statistic that Tottenham’s Lucas Moura, for instance, chose to doubt, but there are people whose business it is to keep track of such things.MORE: The story of 2018 winner Modric’s magnificent careerHypia played 10 years for Liverpool and played the full game when Liverpool executed its miraculous comeback to win the 2005 Champions League title over AC Milan. He also started next to Jamie Carragher in the 2006 FA Cup final, another comeback win for LFC, so he knows a bit about playing center back.“When you see him on the field, he makes everything look so easy,” Hypia told SN. “When you see a game, he is guiding the others, and that’s so important. I think the team is playing better when everyone is communicating, but there are two, three, four players who are a very important part of the puzzle, and Virgil is a very important part of the team.”He’s so powerful and he’s so quick,” Hypia said. “I wasn’t the quickest player. That was maybe my weakness. I wasn’t quick on the field; I was quick in my head. I anticipated and saw the situations earlier than others. I think he has everything.”Liverpool purchased van Dijk from Southampton in December 2017 for $93 million, considered to be a record number for a defender, by others to be outrageous whether or not it was a new high. It has turned out to be, incredibly, a bargain.