The panacea for Reds' rearguard

VIRGIL VAN DIJK, 26 (NETHERLANDS)
VIRGIL VAN DIJK, 26 (NETHERLANDS)

The statistics of van Dijk, the world's costliest defender, suggest he can cure defensive ills

LONDON • Liverpool on Wednesday made Virgil van Dijk the world's most expensive defender in a coup that could see the club go from Premier League top-four contenders this season to title challengers next term.

Should the 26-year-old help shore up the backline - as Liverpool believe he will do after striking a £75 million (S$134.8 million) deal with Southampton - and Jurgen Klopp's men retain their attacking prowess, the Reds will be a force to be reckoned with.

That the Netherlands centre-back opted for Liverpool amid interest from Manchester City, Chelsea and Arsenal suggests he believes they can soon win their first trophy since the 2012 League Cup.

A league winners' medal would almost have been guaranteed had he joined leaders City. But his desire to play under Klopp was key to a 51/2-year deal worth about £180,000 a week.

Van Dijk, who will wear the No. 4 jersey, posted on social media: "Delighted and honoured to have agreed to become a Liverpool FC player! Today is a proud day for me and my family as I join one of the biggest clubs in world football.

"I can't wait to pull on the famous red shirt for the first time in front of the Kop. And will give everything I have to try and help this great club achieve something special in the years to come."

He will be a Liverpool player when the transfer window opens on Monday and is in line to make his debut in the FA Cup third-round tie with Everton next Friday.

He can bolster the Reds on several fronts, not least the Champions League, for which he is eligible.

  • FOOTBALL'S MOST EXPENSIVE DEFENDERS

  • £75M 

    VIRGIL VAN DIJK, 26 (NETHERLANDS) 
     
    Southampton to Liverpool, December 2017
     
    £53M 
    KYLE WALKER, 27 (ENGLAND) 
     
    Tottenham to Manchester City, July 2017
     
    £52M 
    BENJAMIN MENDY, 23 (FRANCE)
     
    Monaco to Man City, July 2017
     
    £50M 
    DAVID LUIZ, 30 (BRAZIL)
     
    Chelsea to Paris Saint-Germain, June 2014
     
    £47.5M 
    JOHN STONES, 23 (ENGLAND)
     
    Everton to Man City, August 2016
     
    £1 = S$1.8

The Merseyside club had been forced to abandon a £60 million deal for him in the summer amid concerns that they would be charged with tapping up the player after Southampton complained to the league about their conduct.

But £15 million more and half a season later, Klopp has his man.

And van Dijk is set to prove he is worth the weight, bringing aerial strength, power, pace and athleticism to a backline that conceded 36 league goals from set pieces since Klopp's appointment - the most of the top-six sides.

The Dutchman leads the league in aerial battles won since he made his Southampton debut at West Brom on Sept 12, 2015, reported the Daily Mail.

He has won 321 contests - 28 more than second-placed Steve Cook of Bournemouth and 95 more than new team-mate Dejan Lovren.

While Lovren has been criticised for costly individual mistakes, van Dijk has not made a single error that has led to a goal after more than 60 league games in the last three seasons, according to Opta.

Van Dijk will also provide leadership, as he explained when discussing his style in an interview with The Times last December.

"I like to be in control," he said.

"I know when to speed the game up and I know when to take the pace out of the game as well. That is necessary sometimes.

"I try to be a leader. I think I am a natural leader and I cannot play a game without talking to everybody."

He, however, will not solve the defensive issues that blight Liverpool all by himself. The problems that reared at Arsenal last Friday, when Klopp's team conceded three goals in six minutes, are to do with the approach and mindset of an entire team.

Liverpool's attacking intent, with full-backs pushed high up the pitch, can leave central defenders isolated. And van Dijk will also be tasked to contribute on the offensive end.

TALK ABOUT PRICE WORTHLESS

We don't make the prices, the market does. Liverpool supporters should forget about the price. We only talk about the player and what he can bring in - the quality, the mentality, the character.

JURGEN KLOPP, Liverpool manager, on new signing Virgil van Dijk.

A ball-playing defender that Liverpool have lacked in recent years, he can bring the ball forward out of defence or help to spring counter-attacks with his range of passing.

According to Sky Sports, van Dijk completed 62.6 per cent of long passes last season - better than Joel Matip (51.4 per cent), Lovren (46.5 per cent) and Ragnar Klavan (45.8 per cent).

Neil McGuinness, the scout responsible for van Dijk's move from Dutch side Groningen to Celtic in 2013, told the BBC: "He can drive forward with the ball at the same time as being able to spot a 60-yard pass and deliver it with accuracy.

"This is a huge, key element to his play and it will add a totally different dimension to the team, with Virgil able to exploit the movement of the likes of Philippe Coutinho and Roberto Firmino.

"The other thing he brings to the centre-back pairing is recovery pace, which will allow for a higher line if chosen against certain opponents."

Perhaps the biggest compliment came from Liverpool great Jamie Carragher.

When asked on Twitter if van Dijk is better than the former England defender was, the man with 737 Liverpool appearances tweeted: "Better in the air than me, quicker than me, more composed & doesn't score own goals!"

THE TIMES, LONDON

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 29, 2017, with the headline 'The panacea for Reds' rearguard'. Print Edition | Subscribe