18+ | Commercial Content | T&Cs apply | Begambleaware.org
Virgil Van Dijk is a man in demand.
Football Whispers understands that he is a Liverpool transfer target for the summer.
But Chelsea are currently at the head of the pack for the Southampton defender.
READ MORE: EXCLUSIVE: LIVERPOOL START VIRGIL VAN DIJK TALKS
Their report also adds that Nathan Aké could head in the opposite direction as part of the deal, with the former Bournemouth loanee rated at £15million.
We take a look at whether this could be a deal that would suit both parties.
Van Dijk to Chelsea
Chelsea are currently looking unstoppable with Antonio Conte’s system with three centre-backs, something which would suit Van Dijk given his ability to play out from the back.
With John Terry unlikely to remain at Stamford Bridge in a playing role, top-quality defensive reinforcements are likely be a priority for the Blues in the summer.
And Van Dijk fits that bill perfectly.
READ MORE: VIRGIL VAN DIJK: THE PREMIER LEAGUE'S MOST WANTED DEFENDER
Since arriving on the South Coast from Celtic for £13million, the 25-year-old has become known as one of the best defenders in the Premier League.
He impressed so much at Southampton last term that he was voted the club’s player of the season and rewarded with a bumper six-year contract as the campaign drew to a close.
Equal parts physical, technical and graceful, the Saints man has the make-up of the ideal modern-day centre-back.
If you were to draw up a blueprint for the perfect modern defender, you would want someone with pace, accurate vertical passing ability, strength, leadership and flawless timing.
You would be describing Van Dijk.
In the two pictures above you can see just how composed the Netherlands international is.
In the first picture, the man on the ball has a lot of space to attack meaning Van Dijk has a lot of pace to defend.
If he dives in and misses then the player is in the penalty area with a lot of room to do some damage, but there’s also the risk of giving a free-kick away in a dangerous area.
But Van Dijk does neither – he waits for the attacking player to make a decision before calmly poking the ball away and regaining possession for his side.
In the three pictures above you can see his reading of the game.
Roberto Firmino is on the move as he looks to drop between the Southampton midfield and defence to receive the ball, but Van Dijk spots the danger and tracks him, before regaining possession, carrying the ball forward and playing a pass to put his side on the front foot.
It’s almost reminiscent of N’Golo Kanté’s work against West Ham United that set up Eden Hazard’s counter-attack goal earlier this month, and would be right up Conte’s street.
His pass completion rate of 84 per cent may be lower than those of César Azpilicueta (88 per cent) and Gary Cahill (89 per cent), but it’s more or less the same as David Luiz’s 83 per cent and that’s because both men have it in their locker to pick out a spectacular long ball, which is statistically less likely to be successful.
In fact, Van Dijk’s passing statistics are almost identical to Luiz's – the Southampton man attempts 45.05 passes per 90 minutes while the Chelsea defender attempts 45.21.
You can see a couple of examples of how good his passing is above.
In the first picture he takes out nine outfield players with a ball that is just slightly miscontrolled by the attacker – Eden Hazard, Pedro and the rest of Chelsea’s attacking frontline would love to get on the end of that.
In the second picture Van Dijk plays the ball to the advanced right-back – a position where the Blues’ right wing-back would probably be.
He turns West Bromwich Albion onto the back foot as they go from looking organised to scrambling back to cover the gaps.
His passing would be a great asset to a team like Chelsea who turn defence into attack quickly.
The Dutchman’s aerial ability would also be in demand at Stamford Bridge – he wins a far higher percentage of his aerial duels (75 per cent) than Azpilicueta (50.94 percent), Luiz (50.82 per cent) and Cahill (62.28 per cent).
It’s not hard to see why Southampton have slapped such a high price tag – an estimated £50million — on him.
Nathan Aké to Southampton
If Van Dijk leaves, Claude Puel’s side would obviously be looking to replace him.
They may even be in for another centre-back given José Fonte’s January departure.
And Aké has proved himself as a very good Premier League defender.
At Bournemouth, he played both centre-back and left-back in either a back four or a back three.
While Saints used a back three under Ronald Koeman, under Puel it's been a pretty consistent back four.
It’s unlikely he would need to play at left-back for Southampton with Matthew Targett and Ryan Bertrand already at St. Mary’s, but it’s always handy to have options.
Since Chelsea recalled him to Stamford Bridge in January, he hasn’t featured in the league and his last outing was in mid-February in the FA Cup win at Wolverhampton Wanderers.
A player of his quality will want first-team action.
He may not be Van Dijk, but under a coach who’s good defensively like Puel, Southampton may be the perfect place to hone his craft.
It’s testament to Aké that Bournemouth had a bit of a defensive crisis when he left.
Like all good defenders, he’s shown a knowledge of where the ball is going to go and as you can see in the pictures above, Ake reads the game well and made a habit of crucial goalline clearances while playing for the Cherries.
And like Van Dijk, he’s calm in the opposing half. The picture above is after he’s skipped past a number of Arsenal players, before finding the right pass.
He’s also good in the opposition box as Southampton fans may remember this season when he popped up to give Bournemouth the lead against them.
The picture above shows he was intelligent enough to let his man get in front of him and lose him from a short corner, before finding himself sneaking back in front of the defender.
Aké may not be as good as Van Dijk yet, but, at 22, he is three years younger than the current Saints defender and has the potential to be a very good player indeed.
If Saints do sell their current star man to Chelsea, getting Aké as part of a deal could prove to be a very smart move.