Statisticians name the fastest player in this year’s Champions League, and if I hadn’t placed his name in the headline, you would have been surprised.
I always wanted my son to score goals when he played football. He was good in the air, and I would suggest to the coach that he should let him go up for corners.
“Nah, he’s too quick.”
So, my boy, the quickest lad on the field, had to stay on the halfway line while all the excitement happened 45m away.
I bet Virgil van Dijk didn’t suffer from the same problem.
The data crunchers have been analysing the 2017/18 Champions League to identify the fastest sprinters, and lo and behold, Liverpool’s centre half wins the race.
During Liverpool’s 3-0 semi-final first leg defeat against Barcelona at the Nou Camp, the speed gun caught Van Dijk hitting 34.5km/hr. What’s even more incredible is the sprint happened in the 92nd minute as Van Dijk sprinted back to defend a counter-attack from a corner.
Three of the top five sprinters come from the Premiership.
The Five Fastest
1. Virgil van Dijk 34.5km/h (Barcelona v Liverpool)
2. Leroy Sane 34.4km/h (Man City v Hoffenheim)
3. Nemanja Radonjic 34.2km/h (RB Salzburg v Red Star)
4. Kyle Walker 34.2km/h (Man City v Spurs)
5. Gareth Bale 33.8km/h (Real Madrid v Roma)
It won’t shock you to read that Liverpool’s frontline also featured in the stats, as Liverpool took the perch for the most effective side when using pace to hurt defences averaging 2.59 passes in the space of 8.01 seconds when scoring, compared to the average of 3.91 passes per goal over 12.56 seconds.
There used to be a time when people would laugh at attackers whose only move was to knock the ball past a defender before beating him for speed. Today, it seems an essential element to the game, with fewer goals coming from individual dribbles and more from the raids of the likes of Trent Alexander-Arnold and Andy Robertson (only two goals in last season’s Champions League came from penetrating individual runs).
That’s why nobody dismissed Usain Bolt’s attempts to become a professional footballer outright. If you can teach Bolt the basics that all coaches bang on about then, you have a rocket ready to outstrip any backline.
But do you need a Usain Bolt?
In April, the French sensation Kylian Mbappé reached a speed of 38km/h during a goal against Monaco while playing for Paris St Germain – faster than Bolt’s average speed of 37.6km/h when he set the 100m world record (Bolt did peak at 44.72km/hr!)
We don’t have odds for the fastest player of the 2019/20 Champions League campaign, but we do have winner odds, and the speed demons from Liverpool, Man City and Real Madrid are all in the running.
Champions League Winning Odds
Man City – 5/1
Barcelona – 6/1
Liverpool – 8/1
Real Madrid – 8/1