Liverpool have finally gotten their man after months of chasing, denying and even apologizing to Southampton at some point during the summer, they have completed a deal to sign Dutch defender Virgil Van Dijk and the centre-back will join the Reds when the transfer window opens on the first of January 2018. The deal had been expected to through during the summer transfer window, but the Saints refused to budge and will now receive a world record fee for a defender, with reports stating that the fee will be £75 million, which is a massive amount and just shows how transfer fees continue to increase. During the summer we saw players break the £100 million mark and almost reach £200 million as Neymar moved to PSG for £198 million, while Ousmane Dembele moved to Barcelona for £135.5 million and Kylian Mbappe moved to PSG on a loan move that will be made permanent next summer and will cost the French club £166.4 million. This new wave in the transfer market makes the £89 million pounds Manchester United paid for Paul Pogba last year look like a bargain. It is safe to say that we have entered a new phase in the transfer market, where the ‘big clubs’ will have to pay over the odds for players they really want/need. Now that Liverpool have paid a world record fee for a defender, let’s take a look at the player and analyze what he will be adding to the Reds.
Liverpool haven’t been good enough at the back this season. They have continually made errors that have cost them, with the best examples being the 3-3 draws against Watford, Sevilla and Arsenal. They had comfortable leads in those games and let it slip due to poor concentration in their own third of the pitch. Dejan Lovren and Ragnar Klavan aren’t the kind of defenders to be starting for a team with ambitions of winning the title. Lovren was deemed to be decent while he was at Southampton, but he hasn’t really cut it with the Reds.
The only central defender in their squad that looks the part is Joel Matip and pairing him with the new boy should make the defense more stable. The fee for Van Dijk may be a touch high, but Liverpool’s desperate need for a quality centre-back was exploited by Southampton.
The Dutchman has shown that he is one of the best centre-backs during his time at Southampton and he will thrive at a better club. The 26-year-old is comfortable on the ball and very capable of launching attacks from the back, which makes him a perfect fit for a Jurgen Klopp side. His pass completion of 86% and an average of 42.21 forward passes per ninety minutes this season shows the classy side to his game. Van Dijk is always willing to carry the ball out of the defense to put his side on the counter-attack and this attribute will make Liverpool a much better team in possession once he joins them. His long-pass accuracy was the best by any defender in the Premier League last season and far superior to any of the other options at Klopp’s disposal. If Van Dijk can help to spring the Liverpool counter-attack, this could be invaluable.
The fact that he is a comfortable ball playing centre-back shouldn’t fool you into thinking he is soft. He is a huge lad and isn’t afraid to get stuck in and go for the crunch tackles. Van Dijk is tall and capable of dominating physical contests with strikers. This season, he has won an impressive 73.75% of his aerial duels, which is clearly more than Dejan Lovren who has won only 63.53% of his and this will help Liverpool as they have been susceptible to being attacked aerially. The Dutchman will improve them in that area defensively and will also be a threat offensively for the Reds when they have set pieces in the opponents’ boxes.
The Dutch international is excellent at reading the game and anticipating where the ball is going next. This allows him to step in and intercept the ball before moving the ball forwards to launch an attack. Despite making significantly more combined tackles and interceptions per 90 minutes than Liverpool’s centre-backs last season, Van Dijk was beaten on remarkably few occasions. In fact, he was dribbled past only six times last term. That happened to Lovren 17 times. The Dutchman hasn’t been at his best this season for Southampton in the twelve games he has played for them and it was obvious that he had mentally checked out already as he desperately wanted to join Liverpool.
Jurgen Klopp has been critical of huge transfer fees in the past, but the quick move for Van Dijk before the window has even opened seems to show that the German now understands that with the inflation in football, such transfer fees are necessary if you really want to improve your team and this is a great signing for the club. Van Dijk will improve Liverpool and that is all that matters.