Premier League: What Does the Virgil van Dijk Signing Mean for Liverpool?
Manchester City currently sit at the top of the English Premier League table with a remarkable 58 points in 20 matches (19 wins and 1 draw), but it is Liverpool who have stolen the headlines (at least temporarily) with the signing of Southampton superstar center back Virgil van Dijk. Liverpool have confirmed the move for van Dijk is worth £75 million, which is the largest transfer fee paid in the history of Liverpool as well as the largest transfer fee ever paid for a defensive player.
Let's take a look at what this signing means for Liverpool.
In the midst of a historic run, Manchester City are already 15 points ahead of second-place Manchester United at the top of the table (and 20 points clear of Liverpool), so it is clear that this move is not going to elevate Liverpool to the league title this season. However, van Dijk will be a critical addition to a Liverpool side that is striving to qualify for next year's Champions League as well as go far in Europe's elite competition this season.
Liverpool currently sits in fourth place in the EPL table, just barely ahead of Tottenham and Arsenal, who will all by vying for a guaranteed spot in the Champions League (obtained from a top-four league finish). And the Reds are set to play Porto in the Round of 16 in this year's Champions League. The addition of van Dijk will be vital towards Liverpool having a successful campaign this season.
It is well known that Liverpool need help defensively. They currently sit second in the EPL in goals scored, led by the likes of stars such as Philippe Coutinho, Roberto Firmino, Mohamed Salah, and Sadio Mane. Coutinho, Firmino and Salah are all top-10 players in the league this season, per WhoScored.com's rating system.
On the other hand one of Liverpool's biggest weaknesses has been their center-back play. Ragnar Klavan and Dejan Lovren have combined for 25 starts at the position, while both only have a 6.91 WhoScored rating, tied for the third-lowest rating on the team for outfield players (minimum of 10 starts). As a result of this suspect center-back play, Liverpool have conceded more goals than anyone in the top seven outside of Arsenal.
The addition of van Dijk will provide Liverpool with a legitimate defensive superstar. Van Dijk finished the 2015-16 season with a 7.56 WhoScored rating, which was seventh-best in the EPL and first amongst defenders. He followed it up with a 7.43 rating the following season, which was 12th best in the league and 2nd among defenders.
His rating has dropped slightly to a 7.10 in 12 games this season, but his track record leaves no doubt that van Dijk is an elite EPL defender. At the age of 26, Liverpool should expect to get several seasons of elite defending out of van Dijk, and this may be the addition that Liverpool needed to catapult themselves into the title race for the next few seasons.
By replacing Klavan-Lovren with van Dijk, Liverpool have immediately turned a clear weakness into a potential strength. Klavan and Lovren will now only be required to start sparingly, as Joel Matip (7.13 WhoScored rating) will likely start alongside van Dijk for the majority of the season. Obviously, swapping out possibly your weakest players for a bonafide superstar is going to provide a major boost to the team's quality, and it means so much for Liverpool because this seems to be one of their key missing links (with goalie now the remaining missing puzzle piece)
This move will help solidify Liverpool as one of England's best teams and beef up their top-four chances for the next few years (barring any major changes to their roster), which is a huge step up for the club after having not qualified for Champions League in six of the eight seasons prior to this one. If van Dijk lives up to his potential and raises Liverpool to a consistent Champions League qualifier, he will be worth the large price tag.