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Can Virgil Van Dijk take Liverpool to the next level?

Tuesday 9th January 2018

It was a perfect start. Virgil Van Dijk put up a match-winning performance in his very first match wearing Merseyside red. When you are newly christened the most expensive defender in world football, the pressure to deliver the goods is palpable. One timely header later and it seems the Dutchman is prepared to not only live up to his £75 million price tag but to also transform a good team into a great one.

Van Dijk’s debut performance for his new club suggests Jurgen Klopp has found the missing piece in his Anfield jigsaw puzzle. Now he must hope Philippe Coutinho's departure doesn't mean Liverpool has done a Jekyll and Hyde from attacking to defensive juggernaut. With Adam Lallana likely to join Roberto Firmino, Sadio Mane, and Mohamed Salah, there is hope that isn't the case. 

Consistency has been Liverpool’s biggest problem in the Klopp era. The team has failed to live up to its billing when it mattered most. The problem was never in the attack, rather always at the back.

Liverpool’s attack line still features the Premier League's number two scorer in Salah. The recently anointed king of African football was flanked by another African Player of the Year nominee in Mane and the Brazilian duo Coutinho and Firmino. The Reds ranked among the best front fours in Europe. Lallana has the ability to ensure the drop-off isn't too steep.

While the quartet thrilled the Kop, their back line was the team’s Achilles heel. The rearguard shipped goals faster and more often than Amazon ships romance novels.

It was no shock the club was willing to pay any price to bring in a player who could not only fix the problem but also supply a timely goal or two. The only surprise was the time needed to close the deal.

Virgil Van Dijk could not have picked a better debut match than the Merseyside Derby to display his credentials. His game-winner was a huge statement, reassuring everyone with a vested interest he was the genuine article. To ensure no one, including his new manager, held any doubt regarding his quality and value, he shone like a million stars. At the back he was rock-solid, repelling attack after attack, while making an overall contribution to the team’s play that was well above par.

The stats don’t lie:

Aerial duels won 5 more than anyone on the pitch
Passes 62 more than anyone on the pitch
Touches 79 second most
Long passes 4 most among Liverpool players
Interceptions 2 most among Liverpool players
Goals 1 match winner

 

Van Dijk was fittingly named Man of the Match. Jurgen Klopp must be in ecstasy, the fans as well.

Coutinho's exit dampens hope the side may have found the balance to challenge Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City in 2018-19. The German tactician is still waiting on his first trophy as Liverpool coach. While the Premier League is beyond reason, the Gengen pressen master will relish the chance to mount a more formidable challenge for the FA Cup and Champions League.

With the European heavyweights still involved in the latter competition, the Reds are outsiders. Yet so was Chelsea when it beat Barcelona on the way to lifting the trophy in 2012. With his new look side boosted by a new acquisition, Klopp can genuinely dream of better days ahead.

Emmanuel Odey

Emmanuel is a freelance football journalist who lives and breathes the round leather game. He is a contributor on several platforms. You can follow him on Twitter for more.


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