Missing out on Naby Keïta won’t be fatal but Liverpool simply cannot afford to not sign Southampton’s Virgil van Dijk argues Jack Hallows.
I honestly don’t know what to believe anymore.
Every second person will tell you something different about Liverpool’s pursuit of Naby Keïta and whether we’ve ended it or not. So for now, I’m going to act like the Guinean is no longer a priority and even if he is, I’m going to ignore him until he’s doing a Melwood lean or until the window slams shut with him still stuck at Leipzig.
Honestly, while signing the midfielder would’ve been a massive boost to the Reds squad and deepened their midfield ranks significantly, the Guinean was always far more of a ‘luxury signing’ than a complete necessity.
With Jordan Henderson, Emre Can, Gini Wijnaldum, Adam Lallana, Philippe Coutinho, Marko Grujić and now seemingly Ben Woodburn all capable of filling a midfield position for Klopp’s Liverpool, Keïta was never going to be a critical do-or-die signing.
I’d have loved to see him donning the no.8 jersey in Liverpool red but unfortunately, you can’t force a club to sell when they’re ruled by a man as adamant – and frankly terrifying – as Ralf Rangnick.
However, while Liverpool can afford to wait and try again with Keïta next summer when his release clause becomes active, there is one man they simply cannot miss out on this window.
Virgil van Dijk.
While the Reds have made an absolute mockery of themselves so far in their attempts to secure the Southampton defender’s signature, the Dutchman is believed to still be keen on a move to Anfield and has been ordered to train away from the first team because of it.
It’s a complicated situation for the Reds – who were forced to apologise to Southampton back in June for ‘tapping up’ the player – but while they must be careful about the approach they take in trying to coax him to Merseyside over the next month, the overall equation is simple.
He has got to sign for the club.
The centre back was one of the league’s best defenders not only last season but in the 2015/16 campaign too and despite missing six months of the campaign just gone, leads the league in headed duels won since he arrived at Southampton from Celtic. Not bad, eh?
With Dejan Lovren seemingly superb at taking one step forward, two steps back and Liverpool’s other options in Joe Gomez and Ragnar Klavan not being of the standard required to compete for top Premier League honours, Klopp is left with no suitable partner for his defensive lynchpin Joel Matip. Sign van Dijk and all that changes.
The Dutchman is quick, tall and strong, while also boasting a superb reading of the game and a comfortable and composed head on his shoulders when in possession. He’s capable of breaking down counter attacks, timing when he steps out of the defensive line to perfection and when he does win back the ball his passing and dribbling skills are far better than those of the average centre half.
Put simply, he’s far more of a footballer than a centre back, which is just what Klopp desires.
The Reds’ back line is simply there to mop up opposition counter attacks and start attacks of their own, pinging balls forward through the midfield lines or looking to find the pace provided to them in the wide areas of the field – namely through Mo Salah and Sadio Mané – and this is a job van Dijk absolutely fits the bill for.
In a summer of ridiculous transfer fees and crazy money being thrown about, I don’t care what we have to pay to sign him. Make him the new record defensive signing, hell, make him the new record Premier League signing – it’ll only get broken in the next twelve months anyway – just get it done.
For too long Liverpool have had a defensive Achilles heel so big that it’s cost us a Premier League title, a Europa League final and more than one domestic trophy. While the signing of van Dijk wouldn’t single handedly solve that, it would improve it remarkably and would see the Reds become a far more imposing force in the process.
We simply cannot afford to miss out on him this summer.