A good defender is hard to find these days. Even spending millions is no guarantee of quality for your back four – just ask Man City fans about Mangala as evidence of this.
Chelsea tried to prize John Stones away from Everton last summer, but such is the value put on talented defender’s that they were eventually priced out of it, the Toffee’s digging their heels in, determined to keep hold of their young defender.
But down on the South coast, one team may have got a real talent on their hands. Having joined Southampton from Celtic on the final day of the summer transfer window, Virgil van Dijk is fast becoming one of the best central-defenders in the Premier League.
Bought for a reported £13m, the Dutch international has played every minute of every game since his transfer from north of the border, and has impressed mightily in doing so. Standing at an imposing 6’4″, his aerial ability is unquestionable, averaging nearly five aerial duels won every game, according to whoscored.com.
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Easily Southampton’s best player, he has played a big part in the success of Ronald Koeman’s side this season, helping them to a run of six games without conceding at the start of 2016. His Dutch heritage also shines through in his passing and technical ability, the giant centre-back able to bring the ball out of defence with assurance and find team-mates with ease, a pass success rate of over 83% testament to his ability on the ball.
Charged with stopping goals, he’s also pretty handy in the opposition penalty area and has already found the net three times for Saints this season. Clearly his height and strength in the air lend themselves well to his threat from set-pieces but he’s also good with his feet, as evidenced by his last-gasp equaliser against Sunderland recently, the defender slamming the ball into the net from a Dusan Tadic cross.
Two full seasons at Celtic saw van Dijk win the title on both occasions – not hard admittedly, particularly given Rangers’ absence from the top-flight – but he was also included in the PFA Scotland Team of the Year for both campaigns, proof of the impression he made on his peers. And 15 goals in all competition’s in just over two seasons with the Parkhead club is a fine return for a central-defender.
Koeman may have got himself quite the bargain in acquiring his fellow countryman’s services, even at £13m. Not dissimilar to the Southampton manager’s own playing style, van Dijk should be in the right place to further develop his ability. Under the tutelage of Koeman, ‘Virgil’ (as the name on the back of his shirt signifies) will potentially blossom at St Mary’s and it probably won’t be long until some of the big-boys come sniffing around.
In fact, why a club like Arsenal didn’t look to acquire his services seems baffling, considering their weakness in the centre of defence, but that’s as likely to come down to Wenger’s deficiencies in the transfer market as any shortcomings in van Dijk’s game.
And fellow London club Chelsea too, once their attempts to sign John Stones from Everton fell through, could have done far worse than look to the (then) Celtic man’s services – in fact they did do a lot worse, signing Papy Djilobodji and Michael Hector at the position, neither of whom have made any impression at all on the Blues first-team.
If Koeman and Southampton can keep the player at St Mary’s for any length of time, it will certainly help their cause in attempting to push Saints into the top-six and beyond in the future. But given the attraction of other club’s, particularly Liverpool, to many of the South-coast club’s better players in recent seasons, it may be easier said than done.
And if van Dijk’s display’s in his first season with Southampton are anything to go by, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see the Dutchman pursued by some of the Premier League’s bigger sides come the summer.