Virgil van Dijk signs for Liverpool: comment

Finally, it’s official. News broke this evening that Liverpool and Southampton had been in advanced discussions over a deal for Virgil van Dijk, having repaired their relationship after the summer’s transfer fiasco. Significantly, the player still had his heart set on working with Jürgen Klopp despite strong interest from run away league leaders Manchester City. Within the hour, it was confirmed.

Van Dijk is a Liverpool player. £75 million- a world record fee for a defender. The Dutchman will join the club officially on 1st January, wearing the number four shirt. It’s the biggest statement signing of FSG’s tenure and crystal clear evidence that they are willing to back Klopp to the absolute hilt to get his prime targets, having now secured Van Dijk, Mo Salah and Naby Keita in a matter of months.

It’s about time Liverpool acted like a big club in the transfer market and regardless of whether the fee seems excessive, this was a deal which the club simply had to get done. For too long, the defence has been neglected with hardly a penny spent on investing in new players since Klopp’s arrival. At Anfield, the defensive record has been superb this season but familiar frailties on the road have already proven costly and with a Champions League last-sixteen tie on the horizon, Liverpool needed reinforcements in the centre back department.

Sometimes you just have to bite the bullet and pay the asking price to get the best players- and Van Dijk is just about the best possible centre back Liverpool could realistically buy at this moment in time. Klopp has been patient in refusing to pursue alternatives in the summer and keep faith in his current options and finally he has his man.

It’s important to remember that Van Dijk hasn’t been in top form for almost a year now, with a severe injury curtailing his game time and subsequent form in early 2017, while his performances for Southampton have been below par this season- perhaps a direct consequence of having his head firmly on Merseyside, following the frustration of not been allowed to make his move in the summer.

The Dutchman will not immediately solve all Liverpool’s defensive issues but he will go some way to improving them. A new goalkeeper, for instance, is still something which needs to be looked at in the very near future. But Van Dijk’s arrival means a constant weak spot in this Liverpool side has finally been addressed- a centre back with virtually all the attributes needed to thrive in this Liverpool team.

It’s an expensive, but wholly necessary piece of the Klopp jigsaw- much like Keita. Van Dijk is a player Klopp can now build his defensive unit around for years to come. Not only supremely gifted in terms of his defensive instincts, quality in possession, aerial dominance and composure- Van Dijk is also a strong character and vocal leader capable of effectively organising a back line- qualities this Liverpool side has so often been accused of lacking.

Playing centre back in this Liverpool side, where the emphasis is heavily on attacking and scoring goals, is perhaps one of the most difficult tasks for any player in this league. They’re often left more exposed than centre backs for almost every other side in the league, without a solid midfield shield. To be able to play in such a system requires exceptional individual quality which the likes of Dejan Lovren in particular have been unable to consistently provide in recent seasons when tested by quality attackers.

Liverpool’s defensive structure under Klopp has gradually improved, such that they generally don’t give the opposition many opportunities in dangerous areas. However, a tendency for individual errors to gift opponents goals has proven costly on multiple occasions, which, regardless of tactics, can only truly be solved by buying better players.

It’s unrealistic for Van Dijk to immediately slot in and perform at his highest level. Klopp may choose to bed him in slowly at first until he adapts to the style of play and his new team mates. It’s also not clear who will be the main partner for Van Dijk once he fully settles in, given the impressive recent form of Ragnar Klavan alongside Lovren in Joel Matip’s injury absence. Matip would perhaps be the most obvious choice- another comfortable ball-playing defender- but crucially, Klopp now has a wealth of options in that department from which to choose.

In the short term, Van Dijk’s arrival could well be a game changer in terms of how far Liverpool can progress in the Champions League this season and how high up the league table they can finish. In the longer term, the club have acquired a centre back who has the potential- under Klopp’s management- to become one of the very finest in his position in Europe.

That he chose to stand by his desire to join Liverpool rather than taking an easy Premier League title by choosing Man City speaks volumes of his attitude and desire to be part of what Klopp is building here. Van Dijk should be afforded patience regardless of the transfer fee and it might take him a while to get fully up and running- some initial bedding in time should be accounted for.

It’s not only the most expensive transfer Liverpool have ever made, but a genuine statement of intent from both the owners and the manager that they are willing to do absolutely everything to give the club the best possible chance of competing for silverware, both domestically and on the continent, for years to come.

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