Martin King takes a look at what qualities new signing Virgil van Dijk will bring to Liverpool after his £75 million signing was announced this week.
Remember, remember the 27th of December.
This could just be the rhyme that Liverpool fans recite in joy for years to come, as it shall remind them of the day that Virgil van Dijk finally joined their club.
Unless you were connected in any way to the deal that saw the Southampton defender join the Reds, then news of the deal probably came as a surprise, as many in the football family were surely still digesting the tonnes of food consumed on Christmas, as well as an entertaining round of Boxing Day football.
Either way, the deal is done, with the Netherlands international set to arrive at Anfield on January 1, when the winter transfer window opens.
But, just why is everyone involved in red excited over van Dijk, what could he bring to Jürgen Klopp’s team and is the defender worth his world record £75 million price-tag?
The first and most obvious quality van Dijk will offer the Liverpool team is some much needed defensive improvement.
Last season, the Reds scored an impressive 78 league goals (that is the fourth-best total in the English top flight) however, it’s fair to say that the main reason why Klopp’s side did not finish anywhere beyond fourth place can be found, not only in the number of goals they conceded (42) but the manner in which they went about doing so.
What immediately comes to mind are the shocking defensive errors, set-piece weaknesses and the way Liverpool’s defence has cracked when put under intense pressure by the opposition.
Purchasing Southampton’s van Dijk will go a long way to solving those issues, as the Dutchman possesses exceptional qualities as a defender.
Van Dijk’s physical strength is probably the first outstanding attribute, but it is how he uses it that will be vital for Liverpool’s backline; the 25-year-old possesses good tackling ability and his great pace means he can impose it on some of the strongest and paciest strikers the Premier League and Europe has to offer.
Whichever 18-yard box you put him in, van Dijk is also an aerial threat and that will help Liverpool in both a defensive and attacking sense in set-piece situations during a match. The Saints defender has proven time and again that he possesses good concentration, so his addition will surely see a decrease in the number of goals conceded from errors at Anfield.
Add to that van Dijk’s ability on the ball and alongside the Reds’ current first-choice centre-back Jöel Matip – who possesses similar qualities to the Dutchman – he will not only be a hit but Liverpool’s defence will be massively improved.
One of the common roots to Liverpool’s defensive problems, that is surprisingly still yet to be addressed by the club, is a lack of willing leaders.
There are certainly a number of players at the Merseyside club who possess leadership traits and who have displayed them on occasion, however, one can only be considered a genuine leader if their leadership characteristics shine through on a regular basis.
Van Dijk has achieved that at Southampton, such that when long-serving skipper José Fonte left the club to join West Ham United in January, the Dutchman was immediately appointed club captain without a hint of doubt from the Saints.
For Liverpool, buying him means adding a much-needed leader to the squad, a man who won’t fret when it comes to communicating roughly with his teammates during a match and one who would do well when it comes to organizing his backline when the going gets tough for them.
Given that there is still some uncertainty over midfielder Jordan Henderson’s standing as club captain, manager Klopp could also be getting a man who will one-day lead out the Reds at Anfield.
A strong statement
Finally, both in the context of this article and in England’s top flight, purchasing Van Dijk has seen Klopp and Liverpool send out a strong statement: that the Reds mean business both now and in the future.
From last season heading into this one, the Merseyside club have undoubtedly reinstated the Anfield fear factor, such that most of their opponents see no other way to earn a result against them than to – technically – not play at all, whilst those who dare take Klopp’s side on have been destroyed without a prayer.
Their purchase of Van Dijk will play a huge role in sustaining that fear and ensuring that their top-four counterparts take them seriously.
However, this strong statement will not only be aired around the Premier League, it will definitely blast through the rest of Klopp’s squad, pushing each defensive player hard towards improved displays.
In stronger language, that the Reds boss would certainly use, signing Van Dijk will send out a “get your sh*t together” statement to the rest of the squad.
Is Van Dijk worth £75 million?
Football, especially that of the Premier League, has developed so much that unless it’s opinionated or a financial expert is consulted, one can never be completely sure of a player’s real worth.
Van Dijk is probably a similar case. The defender may only be joining from a mid-table club, but with the quality he has displayed in mind, Southampton were always going to demand a lot for his services.
However, what truly determines whether or not the Dutchman is worth making the most expensive defender in world football or not should be how much Liverpool actually need a player of his abilities.
Having already covered what Van Dijk brings to the red table, it is abundantly clear that the Merseysiders seriously need him and receive great credit for overcoming the challenges that have come with trying to acquire his services.
The Saints defender has been a priority signing for good reason and breaking the bank for him will surely be worth it.
With Van Dijk’s first few games for Liverpool including two huge home clashes against Everton and Manchester City, the Anfield faithful will hope that Van Dijk proves this worth immediately, rather than later.