The January transfer window is an interesting time of the season and always plays a considerable role in the fate of most teams around Europe. For some it's a much-needed opportunity to dip back into the market and make a signing to alter the course of the season and, for others, it's an unwelcome distraction for team's hoping to hold onto their prized assets. And, there's no doubt that this time round, Southampton fall into the latter category.
Their talismanic defender Virgil van Dijk has further enhanced his reputation this season with a series of commanding performances and, as a result, the Netherlands international has a long list of big clubs queuing up outside St.Mary's to lure him away from the south coast. Van Dijk has been linked with moves to the likes of Chelsea, Manchester City and Liverpool in recent weeks and could play a massive part in where the Premier League title ends up in May.
However, on the other side of the spectrum, there's Chris Smalling. A player of fine ability and impressive potential, the Manchester United defender will probably have been thinking his development would've no doubt progressed under Jose Mourinho since his arrival this summer. But, if anything, he's done the opposite.
Question marks over his form and fitness have seen him come under public scrutiny from Mourinho, to such an extent that the England international is being linked with a move away from Old Trafford.
One club that has been linked with both of these players is Everton. The Toffees are expected to one of the busiest Premier League clubs during this transfer window and have been linked with a host of players from around the country.
Ronald Koeman looks set to make Charlton's teen sensation Ademola Lookman his first signing of the window in a deal worth £10million, but, with the race for European places starting to heat up, the Everton boss will be hoping to strengthen in a number of areas.
And, although Koeman's side have only conceded 23 goals in 19 matches this season, speculation continues to attach Everton to potential defensive recruits including the two aforementioned Premier League stars. Both players would be ambitious signings for the Toffees but which player would suit Everton more?
Which player would be a better fit at Goodison Park?
Koeman will have a battle on his hands if he is to link up with van Dijk again at Goodison Park as most of the country's top clubs have expressed interest in the Dutchman. Also, Southampton wouldn't be inclined to sell one of their most important players halfway through the campaign when they have European aspirations of their own.
Smalling, however, has been out of the spotlight of late due to injury but could attract interest from Arsenal if he became available following Arsene Wenger's attempt to sign the 27-year-old before he moved to United.
Even though relations between himself and Mourinho could be better, the Portuguese boss called off his pursuit of Benfica defender Victor Lindelof last week which suggests that he is happy with his defensive options and will be unlikely to sell Smalling taking into account Eric Bailly's upcoming departure for the African Cup of Nations.
If they were to move to Goodison Park, there's no doubt that both players have the qualities to make the grade under Koeman.
Van Dijk would fit into the Everton setup seamlessly following his stint playing under Koeman at Southampton before the Dutchman's departure in the summer. Not only is the Netherlands international strong in the air, he is also very athletic and would provide much-needed speed to the Toffees back four and cover to ageing stars Leighton Baines and Phil Jagielka.
Smalling, on the other hand, boasts similar attributes to Van Dijk but, despite never playing under Koeman before, his ability to bring the ball out from defence could sway the Dutch coach to sway in his favour. Despite playing less games than van Dijk (84%), Ashley Williams (82%), Phil Jagielka (80%) and Ramiro Funes Mori (79%), Smalling has the highest pass completion rate with 91% this season.
However, in spite of this, van Dijk offers more statistically than the other defenders in almost every area. The Dutch stopper has made more tackles (30), interceptions (51%) and is only matched by Williams in terms of blocks made (14).
Defensively, van Dijk has shown just why he will be so in-demand this month and , because of this, Everton will need to move fast if they are to snap him up early. They may not have as much competition to sign Smalling but he is a player with proven quality and will be desperate to try and make his mark under Mourinho at Old Trafford. However, if their relationship remains precarious, Smalling could become the Toffees main target with a move to Goodison Park an increasing possibility.
Click here to see who we think are the five players most likely to move to Everton this month
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By Charlie Doris