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In the 2013/14 season Liverpool should have won their first league title since 1990. Their top goal-scorers, Luis Suarez and Daniel Sturridge, also sat atop the league-wide charts with 31 and 21 respectively, and the club as a whole were only one goal behind their free scoring rivals Manchester City in the goals scored column.
The main reason the title went to Manuel Pellegrini’s side and not to Brendan Rodgers’ was the Liverpool defence. Or lack of.
With 50 goals conceded they emerged from the season with the defensive record of a mid-table side. Even 11th placed Crystal Palace conceded fewer, and despite their similar goalscoring records they found themselves 14 behind the eventual champions when it came to goal difference.
The subsequent decline of an attack which had served Liverpool so well and had masked those defensive deficiencies eventually cost Rodgers his job. In the season after their title challenge the club’s goal tally almost halved, while their defence remained the same.
New manager Jurgen Klopp was presented with a stuttering attack and an incompetent defence, but the German saw potential in some of the players who might not have been used to their full effect under the previous regime.
A failed loan move for Steven Caulker signalled Klopp’s intent. He knew a defender was needed, but the January transfer window wasn’t the ideal time to do business.
In his first summer transfer window Klopp signed Joel Matip on a free transfer from Schalke. The first step towards a better defence had been made.
Ragnar Klavan also arrived, again from the Bundesliga, and was supposed to be backup to the departing Kolo Toure as the club’s fourth choice, but an inexplicable turn of events involving Mamadou Sakho, and the continued unreliability of Dejan Lovren meant Klavan was often the starting centre back.
This is why, in Klopp’s second summer transfer window, Liverpool have been so desperate to land Southampton defender Virgil Van Dijk. He completes their first team lineup and provides another quality defensive presence alongside the impressive Matip.
For Liverpool fans who realise the defence needs an overhaul, the Van Dijk transfer saga has been dark and full of terrors.
Recent revelations that there is no alternative to Van Dijk have only worsened the outlook for Liverpool fans.
“To date, the recruitment of Mohamed Salah for a club record £36.9 million and Dominic Solanke has been overshadowed by the public apology and withdrawal of interest in Virgil van Dijk even though the centre back clearly remains Klopp’s top defensive target,” said The Times’ Northern Football Correspondent, Paul Joyce.
“If Van Dijk does not sign from Southampton, it is unlikely Liverpool will purchase an alternative.”
And with that last, swift blow of his keyboard, Joyce left Liverpool fans in a desperate state of panic, looking through their club’s Wikipedia page at the profiles of Joe Gomez and Lloyd Jones.
If Van Dijk doesn’t sign, and there is no other player in line to come in and improve the back line at the club, then a good chance to strengthen a troublesome area has been missed.
Either side of his knee and achilles injuries Gomez has shown glimpses of his potential, but the Englishman looks more like an alternative to Matip as opposed to the cure for the club’s defensive ill’s alongside him.
Klopp likes Lovren, but the Croatian still has the tendency to switch off defensively despite the occasional highlight reel defensive contribution. In that sense he’s the club’s new Martin Skrtel, and they don’t need one of those in Klopp’s system.
In theory Sakho seems like the ideal partner for Matip. He’s left footed, good on the ball, and possesses the same power and defensive strength of Lovren but with fewer lapses in concentration, even though the Frenchman does have one or two in him.
Sakho is also a natural leader, a personality, and a player who connects with the fans, and having just lost long time dressing room to fan connection Lucas Leiva the club need one of these right now.
It’s not like there aren’t alternatives to Van Dijk. Sakho would be one, but there are players at other clubs too.
Football Whispers detailed six of them with Kalidou Koulibaly being the standout in the list, but it doesn’t sound like the club have any interest in starting negotiations with anyone but the Dutchman.
While the developments during the middle part of this transfer window have had fans worried, there could be a positive reason for this lack of an alternative.
It could be the biggest indication that Liverpool are confident Van Dijk will be their player come the start of the new season.