If Liverpool have their heart set on raiding Southampton for a fourth consecutive summer then centre-back Virgil van Dijk should top their list of transfer targets.
The 25-year-old has been a standout performer since he was signed in the summer of 2015 and is regularly linked with moves away from St Mary's.
Following on from the defeat to Swansea at Anfield in early January, Reds legend Steven Gerrard name-checked the Dutch defender as the man he'd target to solve the club's defensive issues.
“Who I think we need, I would go and try and bid for van Dijk from Southampton,” Gerrard told BT Sport.
“But we’ve had enough of their players so that will probably go down like a lead balloon.”
While this is the belief of many, former Saints midfielder David Prutton feels the existing business relationship between the two clubs could give Liverpool a head start in any negotiations.
Prutton said: “If you’re one of Manchester United, Manchester City, Tottenham, Arsenal, Chelsea and Liverpool you’d be foolish not to look at him.
“Liverpool obviously have a good dialogue and a business relationship with Southampton, although I wouldn’t say that puts them at the front of the queue.
“You’d think from a business point of view, it probably gives them a head start when it comes to building a rapport and business relationship.
“But the most important word there is business. Liverpool would want to get him for the right price – and Southampton will want as much as they can get.”
Before the January transfer window opened, it was mooted that Pep Guardiola had identified van Dijk as the man to solve the defensive issues at the Etihad and Manchester City were lining up a £50million move for the former Celtic player.
Football Whispers understands that, in March, Liverpool began talks with the centre-back, with hopes to secure his services this summer.
Everything points to Southampton digging their heels in until their valuation is met. John Stones went for £50million last summer and although what was with the English premium added on there are reasons to suggest why van Dijk's employers could justify wanting a similar fee, if not more.
First off, van Dijk signed a new six-year contract in May 2016 with the Saints which sees him pocket £63,000-per-week. They aren't in a rush to sell him so it's up to a club to make them an offer they can't refuse. Secondly, his performances are a lot more consistent than Stones' are.
Finally, Southampton know he could be the difference maker for a club like Liverpool in terms of whether they qualify for the Champions League or not. If he helped the Reds to two consecutive top four finishes then he's paid back his fee.
Perhaps van Dijk is the player the Merseyside club should break their transfer record on to banish the memory of Andy Carroll.
Is he worth it to Liverpool?
The Reds have a tendency of exposing their own defenders. It's been a problem for a while now, probably since the departure of Javier Mascherano, and it's yet to be fully addressed.
The system which Jurgen Klopp deploys relies on Jordan Henderson patrolling the space ahead of the centre-backs. He's done a good job there but there are times he's caught out and the likes of Joel Matip, Dejan Lovren, Lucas and Ragnar Klavan are left one vs one, and you then see their limitations.
Any potential defensive signing needs to be good when isolated. Since his arrival in England he's averaged 1.8 tackles and 2.7 interceptions per 90 minutes. For context, Dejan Lovren's stats for this season are 1.4 tackles and 1.6 interceptions while Joel Matip's are 1.7 tackles and 1.6 interceptions per game.
In the two pictures above you see van Dijk's composure when isolated against an opponent. In the first picture, the man on the ball has a lot of space to attack meaning the centre-back has a lot of space 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. There's also a chance that a poor tackle leads to a free-kick in a dangerous area. However, he does neither. He doesn't lose his head and he waits for the attacker to make a decision before just calmly poking the ball away and regaining possession for his team.
He concedes fewer fouls (0.85) than Lovren does (0.9), but both are behind Matip in that department per 90 minutes. His reading of the game is another positive. Liverpool want a proactive approach to the game from their players and anticipation is key.
In the three pictures above, taken against Liverpool, you see his reading of the game. Roberto Firmino, a master of manipulating space, is on the move in the first picture as he looks to drop between the Southampton midfield and the defence to receive the ball.
The defender spots the danger though and tracks him, regains possession and carries the ball forward before playing a pass which gets his side in behind the Liverpool midfield. It's that front foot approach which makes him perfect for Klopp's defence. He manages to do it without giving away free-kicks.
Another trait needed when you're playing in a Liverpool defence is the ability to be able to play football. Confidence on the ball and execution of the pass is a necessity as the centre-back pairing as tasked with acting as deep-lying playmakers at times. Lovren attempts 69 passes and completes 85.8 per cent of them per 90 minutes and Matip's figures are currently 60 passes with an 86.6 per cent success rate.
The Southampton man, during his time in England, has attempted 44.2 passes and completed 83.6 per cent of them. He may see slightly less of the ball on average but his stats hold up to the stat test.
Being Dutch it's no surprise he can play a pass. He's often used to switch play and stretch the opposition. He's unnervingly accurate with it. In the first picture he takes out nine outfield players with a ball that is just slightly mis-controlled by the Southampton attacker.
In the second picture he plays the ball to the right-back and turns West Brom right around as they go from looking organised to scrambling back to cover the gaps. The Reds are often accused of being too safe on the ball so an expressive centre-back spraying accurate passes around like that would be welcomed.
An area of weakness for Klopp's men is when it comes to defending crosses. Whether it's in open play or during a set piece, they can't seem to cope with balls into the box.
Many of the goals they've conceded this season have been after they have failed to clear a cross. Lovren wins 3.5 aerial duels and Matip wins 2.3 per 90 minutes.
Both are seen as good in the air but they fall short when compared to van Dijk who racks up 4.8 aerials won per game.
No defender in the Premier League wins more aerial duels and only five players in the entire league win more headers.
Liverpool often look to unearth gems in the market and avoid spending Manchester United, Manchester City and Chelsea-like fees but if they want to compete with those clubs on a consistent basis then they occasionally need to pay the going rate.
van Dijk ticks the boxes and even though £60million is an eye-watering amount, he might be worth it to Klopp and Liverpool in the long-run.
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