News broke last night in the Echo that Liverpool are willing to smash our transfer record by £15m to sign Southampton’s Virgil can Dijk for £50m.
An offer of such magnitude would surely be enough to convince the Saints to depart with their prized possession, which led many Reds to suggest our defensive problems will be fixed next season – thanks solely to the giant Dutchman’s potential presence.
And in many ways, they’re right. The 25-year-old is monstrously powerful, very fast and composed on the ball. In terms of attributes, he seems to have everything our backline needs, as well as leadership.What’s more, he’s at the perfect age to improve and become a world-class operator over the next few years.
The man many want Van Dijk to replace in our back four is Dejan Lovren, who committed two atrocious errors against Crystal Palace at the weekend. Since signing from Southampton in 2014, Lovren endured a nightmarish debut campaign, followed by two seasons in which he was occasionally excellent but often inconsistent.
That would be a fair way to describe the 27-year-old…
But when he was at Southampton, here’s how Lovren was thought of by football fans and respected media.
While Southampton’s defence has its roots in their attack, Dejan Lovren has been the most successful of those newly signed players. Ever-present in the league since arriving in England, Lovren is the best-performing defender in the Premier League this season, with a WhoScored rating of 7.73, which is good enough to rank him behind only Arsenal duo Olivier Giroud and Aaron Ramsey of all players in all positions to have made at least five appearances.
The Croat has been an integral part of a defence that has conceded just two goals in league games this season. Across the top five European leagues, only Roma (one) can boast a better defensive record, while European giants like Barcelona and Paris Saint Germain have shipped at least twice as many. The goals they have let in were a defensive lapse early on against Sunderland to allow little Emanuele Giaccherini to head home, and a long-range effort from Nathan Redmond at home to Norwich. Since the latter, Saints have gone seven hours and 52 minutes without conceding a single goal in any competitive match, including a 1-0 win at Anfield in which Lovren scored the winner.
If the season ended now, Southampton would probably be most neutrals team of the season in the Premier League.
Following their 1-1 draw away at Manchester United last weekend the Saints are currently 6th in the league, and Mauricio Pochettino’s side were lavished with praise by Gary Neville and Jamie Carragher on Monday Night Football.
The Sky pundits delivered an excellent analysis of the strengths of Southampton’s defence, who remarkably have the second best record across all the top divisions in Europe (see graphic above).
The star of Southampton’s backline is 24-year-old Croatian defender Dejan Lovren (Neville: “a top class centre-back”), who was imperious at Old Trafford last week, while midfielder Morgan Schneiderlin also came in for appreciation.
Carragher made the biggest statement though, comparing Southampton’s current defence to the great AC Milan team of Baresi and Maldini.
Van Dijk has been described in equally glowing terms this season, but Lovren’s proven that defending for Liverpool is harder than it is for other clubs.
Mamadou Sakho has been jaw-dropping for Crystal Palace, a team, like Southampton, that deploys naturally defensive midfielders and allows a deep backline.
Klopp raved about Ragnar Klavan before he came to the club and we’d hazard a guess that Lucas would look like a seriously impressive operator in defence for a bottom-half club that valued his courage and nous.
So while we’d definitely like Van Dijk to sign, there’s no guarantee that he’d look as brilliant for us as he does for the Saints. Hopefully, his physical and mental attributes will suit Klopp’s style – as the German’s footballing demands don’t do his defenders any favours.