Virgil van Dijk: No certain partner – short or long-term

Melwood training ground

Dave Davis discusses who might be Virgil van Dijk’s partner in crime in the middle of Liverpool’s back four when the Dutchman starts for Liverpool.

It’s a saga that lasted well over six months, but it’s finally over. Jurgen Klopp has made it abundantly clear that Virgil van Dijk was his number one choice and no alternatives would be considered.

A £75 million centre-back has been purchased to become the main man in Liverpool’s back-line and talk has turned to who will become his main partner. Short-term opportunities will be given to all the current crop. Long-term, it’s not as certain as some may think.

Joel Matip was the first centre-half that Klopp signed since his arrival at Anfield. The Cameroonian defender impressed initially after his free transfer from Schalke and there’s an assumption amongst many Reds that he’ll be the natural choice.

It’s not been plain sailing in recent times for the 26-year-old though, as his mistake against Leicester emphasised. Injuries have plagued his time at Anfield and a player that seemed so assured initially has looked nervous and been culpable at times this campaign.

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Whilst natural assumption has Matip as number one, popular opinion was that Dejan Lovren’s days at Anfield would be numbered in any scenario. The Croat’s time at the club has been littered with mistakes and many Reds hope to see him depart. However, a contract renewal in April combined with the captaincy in certain games may not make this such a straightforward conclusion.

On his day, Lovren can do the basics very well and may benefit from having an assured partner. He looked dead and buried when Klopp took him off against Spurs and surely wouldn’t want to be a ‘back-up’. That might not be in Klopp’s mind.

One player who seems happy to fulfil that role is Ragnar Klavan. At 32, the Estonian has proven what many expected a £4.2 million centre-half to be. Klavan had the right to feel aggrieved when the starting XI was announced against Leicester as he’s impressed in recent months. He certainly put a good word in for himself with the winner at Turf Moor against Burnley, though.

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Some fans believe he’ll be the one to depart but the manager has talked about Klavan needing to have confidence with the abilities he’s been displaying and a player that’s happy with a squad role can be invaluable for a team challenging on so many fronts.

You won’t find many that don’t want to see Joe Gomez given a chance as the 20-year-old continues to impress. After an impressive international debut against Brazil, the clamour to move the former Charlton man from the right to the centre increased and it’s understandable why.

Many had rated Gomez as Liverpool’s best defender before van Dijk arrived, but circumstances may count against him. Nathaniel Clyne doesn’t look like he’s set to return anytime soon and for all Trent Alexander-Arnold’s potential, Klopp seems comfortable playing him against teams that sit back at home, rather than against the big six.

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Longer term, there’s still talk of Liverpool being interested in Lazio’s Stefan De Vrij on a free in the summer or looking to tie up a move for Basel’s Manuel Akanji. Klopp’s preferred choice may not even be at the club currently if he feels further fresh blood is needed. A £75 million centre-half has been brought in to be his first choice. Who his main partner will be doesn’t seem as clear, short or long-term.


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