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3 players that can be Manchester United's Virgil van Dijk

Giulio Prifti
Top 5 / Top 10

Virgil van Dijk is the most important player in Liverpool’s recent success. The centre-half may just have been at the club for just over a year, but since the Dutch player joined, the Reds only have lost 4 games in the Premier League, reached a Champions League final and are right now on the top of the division again.

Liverpool FC v Watford FC - Premier League
Liverpool FC v Watford FC - Premier League

Salah, Firmino and Mane are maybe scoring the goals upfront, but van Dijk is the reason why Liverpool only conceded 18 times in this Premier League season, which makes them the best defensive team in the league.

He is not only leading the team but also holding the defence together; the ex-Southampton player’s individual performances are excellent as well. He was never dribbled past this season, an achievement that was only reached by Alessio Romagnoli and Omar Colley in the Serie A.

Van Dijk is insane in his defensive abilities: 1.1 tackles, 1.2 interceptions and probably his standout statistic, 5.3 clearances, a game. 

His build-up is also a very important aspect to the player’s game. Virgil has a passing accuracy of 89.6%, which combined with his 5.7 successful long and 65.7 short passes per 90 is an impressive stat.

Van Dijk
Van Dijk's stats in the 18/19 Premier League season

Manchester United, on the other hand, do not come close to have a centre-back on Van Dijk’s level. Apart from Victor Lindelöf, none of the Red Devil’s defenders seems to have secured a place in their starting eleven. In addition, even though Smalling, Jones, etc. are all good players, none of them should start for a team that wants to win the Premier League. Victor Lindelöf needs a “Van Dijk” on his site who can read the game for him and lead the back line.

That is why United is linked with many centre-backs right now. From those rumours I chose the best options (comparing them to Van Dijk, price, age, etc.) and ranked them into a top 3 list.

#3 Matthijs De Ligt

Real Madrid v Ajax - UEFA Champions League Round of 16: Second Leg
Real Madrid v Ajax - UEFA Champions League Round of 16: Second Leg

De Ligt is the youngest player on the list. At only 19 years old, he is the most inexperienced player on the list, but the one with the most potential. The Ajax youth product already showed in the Champions League and the National team, which the player can perform outside of the Eredivisie. He is also very consistent making nearly no errors, which is impressive for such a young defender. 

Due to his age, the Dutch definitely is not the leader Van Dijk is and even though he is the captain for Ajax, De Ligt will not be able to lead a backline in the EPL on such a high level, as his defensive partner for the national team.

The 19 years old also would need a little while to adapt to the Premier League as he, even though the defender is quite good physically.

De Ligt stats of the 18/19 Eredivisie season compared to Van Dijk
De Ligt stats of the 18/19 Eredivisie season compared to Van Dijk's

You can see that the younger player has some similar defensive numbers to his counterpart. He is dribbled past 0.4 times per 90, which is of course more than the big zero on Van Dijk’s side but are still good. He should also increase his clearances, but with a move to a bigger league, those numbers normally improve, as the level of opposition attackers is better.

De Ligt also got worse aerial and passing numbers, which possibly improves by age. 

It is visible that De Ligt is a very good player for his age, even though he only plays in the Eredivisie, the youngster shows some big potential and could be an insane buy for a top club. 

The biggest issue I see is that he may be too young and inexperienced at the side of another young Lindelöf, who is only 22 on his part. It is a risk that could work out but at a cost of £80 million, it would be a very expensive one. There are also many other top clubs linked to him, including Barcelona and Liverpool.

2. Toby Alderweireld

Burnley FC v Tottenham Hotspur - Premier League
Burnley FC v Tottenham Hotspur - Premier League

Alderweireld is the only player to already have Premier League experience on this list. He is similar to his playing style, comparing him to Van Dijk. He is also very good at building up the play with longballs, which often find their way to a teammate upfront. He is also consistent, basically never making a fault and being extremely secure on the ball. 

The Belgian is also the oldest player on the list. At 30 years, he may only got around three more years in him. He is less physical than Van Dijk and also 6cm less tall than the Dutch.

Alderweireld has usually never been the leader of the backline he played in, as he mostly played beside the team’s captain. This could be an issue, considering Manchester United are in for a rebuild and neither of the options that probably will play, like Shaw and Lindelöf, are in and out leaders either. 

Alderweireld stats of the 18/19 Premier League season compared to Van Dijk
Alderweireld stats of the 18/19 Premier League season compared to Van Dijk's

By looking at his stats it surprisingly shows, that Alderweireld is actually better than Van Dijk, when it comes to long balls. He also matches the immense 5.3 clearances of the Dutch. Where he visibly lacks are his aerial, which seems to be due to his size, and short pass numbers. The Belgian also would need to improve his interceptions.

On the paper and playing style, Alderweireld would definitely fit the bill to become Manchester United’s next star centre-back. An issue is definitely his age, size and unproven leadership. At already 30 years old, he is more of a short-term option, which also his prize of £25 million displays. 

1. Kalidou Koulibaly

S.S.C. Napoli v Red Bull Salzburg - UEFA Europa League Round of 16: First Leg
S.S.C. Napoli v Red Bull Salzburg - UEFA Europa League Round of 16: First Leg

Koulibaly is in his prime right now. The defensive leader for Napoli is the physical and very fast, which he proved when he shut down Mbappé and Salah in the Champions League. He is even taller than Van Dijk at 195cm and therefore also a threat in the air. The Senegalese is another calm passer, who has his strength in short passes.

One issue is, that he never played in the EPL and would probably need time to adapt to a faster playing style of football in England. He also fouls the opponent quite often at 1.4 times a match, which is one foul more a game than the Dutch.

Koulibaly's stats of the 18/19 Serie A season compared to Van Dijk's

Koulibaly is actually quite similar to Van Dijk. Being better at intercepting the game, he is a little worse than the Liverpool player at passing, clearances and getting dribbled past a game. Where he is surprisingly much worse than his counterpart is his aerial. This would need to improve, but with his size, I can see that happening in the EPL. It is also apparent that other top Serie A center-backs as Chiellini, Manolas and Bonucci are putting up similar aerial numbers like the Napoli star

The Senegalese is a similar player to van Dijk and could lead a backline on his own. He is a threatening physical appearance and a defensive monster. His passing ability and awareness off the ball warrant his reported price tag of between £90-140 million. Realistically he should move for around £90-100 million.  

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