Jack Hallows brings you the first instalment of the Summer Shortlist series in which players linked with Liverpool by supposedly reliable sources are profiled in an in-depth attempt to work out their suitability and the likelihood that they will move to the club. 

I was always going to have to do one of these on him at some point so why not get it out the way and done with?

As much as the idea of signing yet another Southampton player upsets many, surely nobody would be unhappy with us shelling out decent money for the monster that is Virgil Van Dijk. Tall, strong, calm, sensible, good on the ball and comfortable as a leadership figure, what more could you want in a centre back?

Honestly, the thought of a central defensive partnership of Van Dijk next to Matip makes me almost shed a tear it would just be that beautiful.

The rock Liverpool are missing?

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It’s a well-known fact that Liverpool’s defence just isn’t very good. Okay, we’re not as poor at the back as a team like Sunderland and there are matches where the players we have perform out of their skin but, there is a level of inconsistency that simply plagues our back four again and again. The lack of leadership and composure at the back is something that Klopp will most definitely be looking to address this summer and Van Dijk would be a stellar addition.

The flying Dutchman fits the same mould that Jöel Matip does in that he’s tall (6′3), strong, comfortable on the ball, decisive and sensible but also has an added air of responsibility about him. He’s the lynchpin of Southampton’s defence and is never afraid to organise, bark orders and keep things shored up at the back – something Liverpool desperately need.

Without Van Dijk in the team, Southampton have conceded a staggering 16 goals in seven league games, keeping just a single clean sheet against bottom dwellers Sunderland. They have also conceded three to Manchester United in the EFL Cup final and a whopping five to Arsenal during an FA Cup clash in his absence.

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With Van Dijk on the field and steadying the ship in the back four, however, they have conceded just 20 in 20 league games and kept 7 clean sheets – one of those against the Reds.

I decided to compare Van Dijk’s statistics (on Squawka) to those of Matip and Lovren – Klopp’s first choice central defensive partnership – and while the Dutchman and Matip are hard to separate, there is a definite gulf in class between him and Lovren.

Of course, numbers are slightly skewed by Southampton being a busier team defensively but Van Dijk’s superior reading of the game is shown through his interceptions (56 to Lovren’s 31), aerial duel success rate (75% to Lovren’s 64%), successful tackle rate (55% to Lovren’s 44%) and lack of any defensive errors leading directly to a goal.

 

In possession, Van Dijk boasts an 84% pass accuracy and is also good for a goal or two at the other end, managing to grab four goals this season in all competitions.

Suitability

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He’s got pace, can operate on the left and the right, plays the ball out from the back and most importantly: he can defend. There’s nothing about him at all that screams “do not sign him!” and for Klopp that’s got to be a huge draw.

He would add height and extra physicality to the Reds back four, quality depth in the centre back position and most importantly he has both Premier League and European football experience. Of course, there would be a bedding in period being at a new club but it would be significantly shorter than if Klopp chose to sign a Bundesliga defender whose English was lacking for example.

Van Dijk next to Matip would be an outstanding partnership and with Lovren and Klavan providing back up, the Reds defensive ranks would suddenly look far more imposing. With the Dutchman next to Matip we’d have a partnership both capable of using the ball intelligently, organising teammates and turning defence into attack in a split second with a pinpoint pass from the back. What’s not to like there?

Stumbling blocks

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Price could be a huge factor in Liverpool trying to sign van Dijk as he’s likely not going to come cheaper than at least the 40 million pound mark. Southampton recognise that they’re onto a winner with the Dutchman and while they’ve had assets in the past, he’s bound to be valued much higher than other players who’ve left in recent seasons.

If the Reds do not achieve Champions League football with a top four finish, there could also be the risk that he opts to go somewhere like Manchester City who are reported to be very keen on partnering him up with John Stones and look set for a Champions League place as it stands.

Suitability: 10/10 – Likelihood: 7/10

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