Virgil Van Dijk and what he will bring to Liverpool
With the signing of Virgil Van Dijk for a record £75m and a last-minute Klavan winner against Burnley, Liverpool has started 2018 in style. Van Dijk is now the most expensive defender in world football and after an embarrassing summer transfer saga, Jurgen Klopp has finally got his man.
Klopp could have easily signed an alternative, however, he continued to target Van Djik and finally, his patience has paid off. But what made the German manager jeopardize his team's title chances to wit this long to sign the Dutch defender?
In the summer transfer window of 2015, Virgil Van Dijk joined Southampton from Celtic. He took no time to settle in and showed his class. An excellent debut campaign saw him voted Southampton's Player of the Year. He was also given the captaincy and rewarded with a new contract and improved terms.
The infamous transfer saga started when Liverpool showed their interest in April last year. This was followed by a twist in the summer, where Liverpool seemed to have agreed to a deal with Van Dijk.
However, the news enraged Southampton and they wasted no time in threatening to approach the Premier League over an alleged illegal tapping-up of the player.
Consequently, Liverpool had no other choice but to withdraw their interest and apologize. Despite submitting a transfer request later, Van Dijk remained at the club. There were rumors that Klopp had given his word that he would eventually become a Liverpool player.
If this is true, then boy did he stick to his words. No wonder, Klopp refused to sign any other defender.
Style of Play
Anyone who has watched him closely knows how he conducts himself on the pitch. In the words of the £75 million defender, he likes "to command the defensive line and have the ball as well".
He is extremely vocal, something which Liverpool desperately need, and likes to play out from the back, a minimum requirement for a defender playing in a team that presses as high as the Reds do.
Displaying a good passing range for a defender, Van Dijk's organizational skills and height will be extremely important in set-piece situations, a problem that has haunted Liverpool for some years now. Surprisingly, he remains one of only four defenders yet to make an individual error since September 2015.
This will certainly benefit an error-prone Liverpool back line. Standing at 6'4, he prefers to play on the left side of a central defensive duo and it will be interesting to see who partners him.
Despite the considerable improvement, the defence has continued to be a big issue for the Reds. When the front 3 attack, the midfielders move forward in support as well. Instead of moving in the same line, the defence falls deeper, often creating a huge gap between them and the midfield.
Sometimes a centre-back presses too high, breaking the defensive line. The arrival of Van Dijk will address these organizational issues considerably with his leadership. He will definitely ensure that the defensive line moves smoothly.
This is also where Joel Matip becomes the ideal partner for the new Liverpool signing, as he and Dijk share similar strengths. Despite his own struggles, Matip is likely to be the 1st choice alongside the former Southampton player.
Matip prefers to move the ball forward, breaking into the midfield and his height(6'5) along with Van Dijk's should bring in more physicality at set pieces.
Jurgen Klopp could look to shift Dejan Lovren to the right side of center back as well, as Lovren has looked more comfortable there. Lovren isn't as elegant as Matip is on the ball and is guilty of making too many errors, which could potentially rule him out as a 1st choice option.
Ragnar Klavan, on the other hand, despite his solid performances this season, seems to be a backup choice.
However, many critics have pointed out lapses in concentration as Van Dijk's weakness. He has been guilty of switching off when his side takes a lead. He will be aware of this and will definitely look to improve on it.
Virgil Van Dijk has the chance to prove himself on an even bigger stage as his career takes another road. It is widely expected that Klopp will give him the time to adjust to his physical demands and improve on his fitness, primarily due to a low-key first half of the season. Klopp has stressed that the signing of the Dutchman for the long-term.
Nevertheless, if the Dutch international proves himself, he could potentially be the best signing of the Klopp era.