Van Dijk arrival boosts Liverpool
Liverpool’s successful pursuit of Virgil van Dijk will end the year on a high note for Jurgen Klopp’s club as they face Leicester in the Premier League on Saturday.
The £75 million fee ($100 million) – a world record for a defender – which Liverpool agreed with Southampton for the Dutch international this week addresses some of their shortcomings at the back.
Even before Van Dijk’s capture, Klopp’s side were well on course for a top-four finish and Champions League qualification thanks to their fearsome forward line.
If only their defence had not fallen apart in a 3-3 draw at Arsenal four days earlier, Liverpool might be in an even more comfortable position.
Their attack, though, is ruthless at present.
Roberto Firmino has scored four in Liverpool’s last three matches, Philippe Coutinho three and Mohamed Salah two.
Coutinho’s sublime finish for the opening goal against Swansea gave Barcelona yet another reason to try to buy him in January.
Liverpool managed to fend off three bids during July and August, but it increasingly appears as if the best they can hope for now is to hang on to him until the end of this season.
For now, though, Klopp can make full use of those attacking options, and may well be tempted to rotate them as Liverpool face up to three games in seven days, with the Leicester match followed by a league trip to Burnley on Monday and an FA Cup home tie against Everton the following Friday.
Sadio Mane, an unused substitute against Swansea, is the likeliest candidate to come in, although Dominic Solanke is another option, while Daniel Sturridge is also set to be available after being absent on Boxing Day because of illness.
That gave Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain only his sixth Premier League start for the club, and he enhanced his chances of a seventh by scoring his third goal of the season.
– Selection dilemma –
Liverpool’s manager does still not seem entirely sure who his first-choice defenders are, although Joel Matip was selected ahead of Dejan Lovren on Boxing Day, making his first appearance after four weeks out with a thigh injury.
Academy graduate Trent Alexander-Arnold, selected in place of Joe Gomez at right-back, responded by scoring at Anfield for the first time, and is hoping to keep his place for the busy run of fixtures ahead, especially with van Dijk due to join his club on New Year’s Day.
Alexander-Arnold said: “It’s huge because there are two competitions, three games in quick succession, and we need to get the results and the points on board and that’s what we’ll look to do.
“We know it’s important to reflect on the Swansea game, pick up some points to take forward for us, but also leave it behind us because there are plenty more games to come.”
Leicester manager Claude Puel is delighted his side will not have to face Van Dijk, who played for him at Southampton, but he is backing the Dutchman to become a huge success at Anfield.
“I am happy for him and happy he can’t play against us, which is a good thing,” Puel said.
“It is fantastic possibility for Liverpool. He can play in different good teams and it is a good reward for him.
“I don’t know if it is the right price but for me he is a fantastic player, a fantastic defender.
“He is one of the best defenders in the world and he has all the qualities to become the best.”