Monday 24 September 2018

Virgil van Dijk focus - Liverpool may have found the missing link to make them title challengers again

Liverpool's German manager Jurgen Klopp (L) hugs Liverpool's Dutch defender Virgil van Dijk (R) at the end of the English FA Cup third round football match between Liverpool and Everton at Anfield
Liverpool's German manager Jurgen Klopp (L) hugs Liverpool's Dutch defender Virgil van Dijk (R) at the end of the English FA Cup third round football match between Liverpool and Everton at Anfield

Jim van Wijk

Virgil van Dijk made his Liverpool debut in Friday night's FA Cup third-round derby against Everton at Anfield following a £75million move.

Here, we assess the impact of the Dutchman, who left Southampton in what was a record deal for a defender.

BODY LANGUAGE

Reds boss Jurgen Klopp admitted the centre-back was "not 100% fine tuned", but also insisted he was under "no pressure" - despite all of the added media attention ahead of the televised encounter. Van Dijk, though, certainly did not look fazed by the occasion, and was all smiles as he ran out at Anfield for the warm-up to plenty of applause. Lining up alongside Joel Matip, the Holland international was tasked with keeping Toffees lone frontman Dominic Calvert-Lewin quiet, while cutting off the supply line from Wayne Rooney and Gylfi Sigurdsson. Despite the disappointment of not making the most of a header after a corner and the manner of Everton's equaliser on the break, Van Dijk kept his composure. The centre-back was rewarded when netting a late winner with a towering header - before being swept up in a sea of red shirts in front of the Kop.

GENERAL PLAY

Just as he had been at both Celtic and Southampton, Van Dijk provided a calm head at the back. The 6ft 4in defender was happy to use his physical presence to marshal the ball out of play or quickly move it forwards along the floor to start another Liverpool attack. As the hour approached, Van Dijk was momentarily caught out of position in the left side of the penalty, but Sigurdsson could not make the most of the opening. The Dutch defender also produced a threat at the other end from set-pieces - and was clearly frustrated after seeing a second-half header from a corner fly straight at goalkeeper Jordan Pickford. Van Dijk, though, would not make the same mistake twice when, with just six minutes left, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain swung a corner in from the left and he climbed highest to plant a header past a flapping Pickford and firmly into the back of the net.

CASE FOR THE DEFENCE?

Van Dijk could do little to prevent Everton's equaliser, which came after a swift counter in the 68th minute when all of the backline was out of shape. However, the Dutchman will certainly add a commanding presence to the Liverpool rearguard - not to mention a potent threat in the air at the other end. It remains to be seen, though, just how he will slot into Klopp's preferred system. Veteran Estonian Ragnar Klavan could be the man to make way and give Van Dijk the chance of a Premier League debut, but doing so against runaway leaders Manchester City next time out may be a bit early. However, on Friday night's showing, Van Dijk could yet provide that missing something which helps push Liverpool back towards a sustained title challenge from next season.

Online Editors

Sport Newsletter

The best sport action straight to your inbox every morning.

Editor's Choice

Also in Sport