Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp was so convinced Virgil van Dijk was the one he wanted he was prepared to ignore all other options and wait six months to get his man.
The Holland international finally arrived at Anfield for £75million, a world record fee for a defender, and the expectations on him are already huge.
But what exactly are Liverpool getting for their huge outlay, and will Van Dijk prove to be the solution to a long-standing problem?
Doing the basics
With Liverpool having such attacking riches, keeping a clean sheet will usually result in a victory but too many times Klopp’s side – and his defensive unit in particular – have let slip leads and conceded soft goals due to individual errors and a lack of organisation. Van Dijk is supposed to be the man who will galvanise the back line and reduce those incidences. His statistics suggest he should do that: a 75 per cent tackle success is better than any of the central defenders in his new team (excluding Joe Gomez, who has spent most of the season at right-back). Probably more significantly for Liverpool, he wins aerial battles at a rate of virtually 3:1 and in 67 Premier League appearances he has not made an individual error which has led to a goal. (Dejan Lovren has six, Joel Matip two and Ragnar Klavan one).
The former Celtic scout who spotted Van Dijk playing in Holland described him as having “everything you would want for the ideal central defender” and that extends beyond heading and tackling. The Dutchman has a turn of speed which allows him to keep pace with Premier League attackers and is technically good and composed on the ball so is comfortable playing out from the back, which is beneficial against teams who employ a high press and also those who get men behind the ball.
Midfielder Jordan Henderson may wear the armband but it is at the back where Liverpool have needed a leader, an organiser, someone to take a grip of a situation. Their frailties were all-to-evident as they conceded three in less than six minutes at Arsenal just before Christmas – a madcap spell when the chaotic spiral the players got themselves in was plain to see. Van Dijk, although a slightly laid back personality, is a physically-imposing figure and has a presence on the pitch which has been lacking in Liverpool’s back four. He has chosen shirt number four, partly because it was the one worn by the great Sami Hyypia, and he has all the qualities to emulate the big Finn. Team-mates for both club and country have spoken of his strong leadership skills and that, as much as his physical attributes, is why Klopp rates him so highly.
Liverpool’s weakness at set-pieces is not limited to defensive situations. The winner at Burnley (where Klavan nodded in from fellow centre-back Lovren’s header) was a rare success from a free-kick move. Attacking corners, in particular, have been a disappointment for some time so Van Dijk should give Liverpool an added presence in the opposition penalty area. He has scored four goals in 67 Premier League appearances for Southampton and he will get more chances playing for a side like Klopp’s, who dominate most games sometimes without taking full advantage. By comparison, Lovren has scored five in 127, Matip two in 45 and Klavan one in 34.