With Southampton defender Virgil van Dijk on his way to Liverpool in a deal worth £75 million, a number of clubs and players could be about to feel the effect of what will likely be January’s biggest transfer.
Manchester City made Kyle Walker and Benjamin Mendy the world’s most expensive defenders when they signed the duo for around £50m each in the summer, but Liverpool have now broken that record by some distance with the acquisition of Van Dijk. They confirmed the deal on Wednesday evening via the club’s official website.
The Dutchman was left out of the Southampton squad that travelled to Wembley for the 5-2 defeat against Tottenham on Boxing Day, which signalled the transfer was close to completion – although Manchester City had been expected to sign the 26-year-old ahead of Liverpool.
With that said, let’s explore the potential winners and losers from Van Dijk joining Liverpool.
The Saints could just as easily fall under the ‘losers’ category; Van Dijk is undeniably their best defender and his absence was felt at Wembley on Tuesday as Mauricio Pellegrino’s side fell to their sixth defeat in 10 Premier League matches.
But just think about the squad improvements Southampton could make with £75m. The south coast club have adopted a relatively beneficial philosophy over the last few years: sell the highly valued players, buy cheaper, younger replacements and comfortably avoid relegation. This is simply a continuation of that approach.
The only difference here is the Saints are selling in January rather than the summer window. But the club can’t be accused of deceiving its fans – they refused to sell Van Dijk in the summer and they kept their word.
Despite Liverpool’s sensational attacking play, there are still some major flaws in their defence. Van Dijk was their only centre back target in the summer, and the club was criticised for failing to have a contingency plan. However, their patience has finally paid off.
When everyone is fit, Joel Matip and Van Dijk will almost certainly be Jurgen Klopp’s preferred centre back pairing. With Van Dijk next to him, Matip should be able to settle into matches without worrying too much about his defensive partner.
Van Dijk has made 29 blocks in the Premier League this season, five more than Matip (24).
Like Van Dijk, West Brom defender Jonny Evans was denied a big transfer in the summer.
While Van Dijk looked nailed on to join Liverpool, Manchester City concentrated their efforts on former Manchester United man Evans. It wasn’t to be in the end, and it looked like that particular boat had sailed when Van Dijk appeared to be on his way to the Etihad, leaving Evans in limbo.
But things took a drastic turn when Liverpool announced the Van Dijk deal. There’s now a chance Manchester City will go back in for Evans as a potential partner for John Stones. Evans is also believed to be wanted by Arsenal and Manchester United. Keep an eye on that rumour mill.
Former Plymouth defender Jack Stephens began his career as a right back before converting to centre back, where he seems more comfortable. However, recent shortages at full back in the Southampton squad have forced him back onto the right where he struggled to deal with Danny Rose and Heung-Min Son against Spurs.
Van Dijk’s exit will open up a gap in the middle where Stephens will have the opportunity to nail down a place in the starting line-up. This is only his second full season in the Saints’ senior setup, but at 23, he won’t be labelled a promising youngster for much longer.
It’s time for him to show his true worth and he’ll be eager to take that chance.
Back in June, Southampton reported Liverpool to the Premier League over the alleged “tapping up” of Van Dijk, according to the Guardian. The Merseysiders immediately withdrew their interest, and although rumours persisted towards the end of the summer transfer window, Liverpool failed to recruit their number one target.
Van Dijk looked set to sign for Manchester City until very recently, which would have spelled the end of a long, arduous and frankly embarrassing transfer saga for Liverpool. But things can change incredibly quickly in football – in the end it’s City who have been left red-faced.
Pep Guardiola will now have to persist with Vincent Kompany and Eliaquim Mangala when short at the back, unless City pursue other targets.
If Matip is set to receive a boost by Van Dijk’s arrival, the opposite could be in store for Dejan Lovren.
The Croatian has cost Liverpool points in big matches against Tottenham and Everton already this season. Even before the Van Dijk news, it felt like Lovren was on his way to becoming surplus to requirements at Anfield.
Their defence is often criticised, but the Reds have kept five clean sheets in their last eight games in all competitions. Those kind of stats could get even better when Van Dijk replaces Lovren in the back four.
In the long-term, Southampton will prosper from the sale of Van Dijk. But January could prove to be a difficult month for under-pressure manager Mauricio Pellegrino.
His future may depend on whether the £75 million is reinvested in January or next summer. If the board choose against using those funds next month, results are unlikely to get better and Pellegrino could face the chop.
Southampton are probably strong enough to stay up with their current squad, but Pellegrino must improve his points haul – 19 points from 20 games – or the club may look in another direction to ensure survival.