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Will the signing of Virgil van Dijk make Liverpool title contenders?

Jake Jackman

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Van Dijk

Liverpool have finally completed the long-awaited signing of Virgil van Dijk from Southampton for a world record fee. They have agreed to pay £75 million for the Dutchman, which makes him the most expensive defender in the history of football. The last few months have seen the Reds’ defensive woes get worse and they are now willing to pay an extra £15 million to secure the services of their primary centre-back target. Saints deserve credit for holding strong and denying a sale in the summer, as they have made more money as a result. They have agreed to a sale at this early stage in order to give Mauricio Pellegrino the time to spend the money.

For Jurgen Klopp, it was imperative that they improved their defence in the January window. They already have one of the best attacks in Europe, but they can’t be relied on to keep goals out at the other end. Poor collapses against Sevilla and Arsenal have shown their limitations as a team. Van Dijk is unlikely to be the sole solution, but he will come in and improve the defence. His arrival could lead to the rest of the back-line upping their own game. If it does, the Reds could be a force to be reckoned with during the second half of the season.

Despite their failure to land Van Dijk in the summer, Liverpool didn’t drop their interest and that shows huge faith in the defender. He is clearly the player that Klopp wants in his defence and the 26-year-old’s own commitment to the move means there will be a great deal of trust on both sides. This turbulent saga could prove to be a good thing for the club in the long-term as both parties will be desperate for it to be a success. It would have been easier for the Reds to move on to other targets after escaping punishment for alleged tapping-up, but they didn’t and they have now been rewarded for their persistence.

Since the initial rumours surfaced, it became evident that Van Dijk wanted to move to Liverpool over other interested clubs such as Manchester City and Chelsea. A lot of pundits have suggested that the defender is too good for the Reds, but he has been wooed by Jurgen Klopp and his comments after the transfer were announced reflect that. BBC Sport report the following quotes from the defender:

“Delighted and honoured to have agreed to become a Liverpool FC player. Today is a proud day for me and my family as I join one of the biggest clubs in world football.

“I can’t wait to pull on the famous red shirt for the first time in front of the Kop and will give everything I have to try and help this great club achieve something special in the years to come.

They may not be winning major honours at the time of writing, but Liverpool remain one of the biggest clubs in Europe. Van Dijk’s comments underline how attractive they are to potential targets and they are now beginning to build a team capable of living up to their standing. In the current game, the media and supporters alike can be obsessed with instant success. Pep Guardiola was criticised a lot during his first season, but Rome wasn’t built in a day and there are signs of development at Anfield.

At the age of 26, Van Dijk is approaching the peak years of his career and he has decided to join Liverpool. That is a huge backing of support for what Klopp is building at the club. They play attractive football and they are close to becoming a force once again. Van Dijk believes in the project and he is the perfect centre-half for the style of play that the Reds’ manager has implemented. He is excellent on the ball and excellent at launching attacks from deep. The Dutchman can be a playmaker from the heart of the defence and that will allow the team to play higher up the pitch.

A weakness for Liverpool this season has been their inability to deal with quick counter-attacks and set pieces. There have been too many occasions where Dejan Lovren has been left in a one-on-one situation and he isn’t good enough to come out on top. Van Dijk is a huge upgrade in this regard, as he is an intelligent reader of the game and is a physical beast. He is quick across the ground and capable of anticipating what the forward is going to do ahead of time, as shown by this season’s average of 2.61 interceptions per ninety minutes.

There are few better players in the air that Van Dijk. The 26-year-old has won an impressive 73.75% of his aerial duels this season. Liverpool have been regularly criticised for their lack of organisation and quality at defending set-pieces. The aerial presence of their new centre-back will go a long way in remedying that.

The signing of Virgil van Dijk alone will not solve the defensive woes of Liverpool. He is an excellent defender and he will improve the starting eleven hugely, but Klopp can’t see this as a sole solution. A new goalkeeper will need to be next on his transfer list as it has become clear that Simon Mignolet and Loris Karius are not good enough to start for a team with title ambitions.

The rest of defence has further problems, but there is potential and the addition of Van Dijk may accelerate their development. Joel Matip deserves the rest of the season alongside the Dutchman to see if he has the quality required. He has shown encouraging signs, but there have been problems. That said, he has played with players that aren’t good enough to start for Liverpool and that may have caused his struggles. Trent Alexander-Arnold, Joe Gomez and Andrew Robertson will all benefit from the leadership of the Dutch international.

Van Dijk will be a great addition to the Liverpool starting eleven and it is commendable that the club have got a deal done quickly, but they need more additions in January to be considered a contender for major honours.

Jake is a student based in the South East. He is a Newcastle fan and has a keen interest in Dutch football. Jake can be found on Twitter here - @jakejackmann.

English Premier League

Aston Villa reportedly not keen on keeping Josh Onomah, so what next?

The talented England youth international has had a mixed campaign at Aston Villa and Tottenham have a decision to make.

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Reports this week have confirmed what has long been suspected regarding Tottenham Hotspur midfielder Joshua Onomah. The talented maestro headed to Aston Villa at the start of the season in the hunt for regular first-team football. But next season he will not be at Villa Park, as the club have decided not to make any move to retain him next term – according to the Birmingham Mail.

This is no shock for Aston Villa or Tottenham fans. Onomah has had a difficult season at Villa Park. The 20-year-old has played plenty of football during his spell in the Midlands. Onomah has featured 34 times for Steve Bruce’s side and scored four goals. But his form has been indifferent throughout the campaign. The second-half of the season saw his form drop off dramatically. Since the turn of the year, Onomah has played just 10 times, mostly as a substitute.

Aston Villa fans were vocal in their displeasure at Onomah’s performances, perceiving him to be lackadaisical and disinterested. Most wanted to see their own talents such as Callum O’Hare and Keinan Davis get a shot instead.

(X during the Premier League 2 match between Liverpool and Tottenham Hotspur at Anfield on February 5, 2017 in Liverpool, England.

So what next for Onomah?

He started the campaign with great hope. After playing a pivotal role in the England under-20 World Cup win, many felt this could be his breakthrough season.

But his spell at Villa has just highlighted the fact he is far from the finished article.

As far as a future at Tottenham goes, it is hard to see him not being loaned out again next term. Spurs have ample options in the centre of midfield – with the likes of Mousa Dembele, Moussa Sissoko, Eric Dier, Victor Wanyama and Harry Winks all at Mauricio Pochettino’s service. With rumours of new central midfield options also arriving Onomah is likely to be loaned out again next season.

If that is the case, Spurs must choose his next location with more care. Villa already have plenty of midfield options and the youngsters coming through led to resentment among much of the fanbase whenever Onomah got the nod ahead of them.

If Tottenham can find Onomah a home in the Championship where he can play regular football week in and week out and be a star for the fans that would be the ideal solution.

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Crystal Palace

Three potential England replacements for Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain

The Liverpool midfielder has been ruled out of the summer’s World Cup.

Jake Jackman

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Photo: Getty Images

It looked bad for Liverpool and England when Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain was stretchered off during the first half of the Reds’ game against AS Roma in the Champions League and their worst fears were confirmed on Wednesday.

The 24-year-old has suffered a knee injury, which will keep him out of the rest of the season and this summer’s World Cup.

This is incredibly harsh news to take for the midfielder, who had been playing the best football of his career under Jurgen Klopp.

Last summer, he made a huge career decision as he chose to leave Arsenal to join top-six rivals Liverpool and, in hindsight, it has been a great move for him.

His influence and consistency have stood out from the centre of the park and England would have benefitted from that in Russia.

However, Gareth Southgate needs to readjust quickly and find a suitable alternative to the Liverpool midfielder.

Here are three players that could replace Oxlade-Chamberlain and receive a World Cup call this summer:

Ruben Loftus-Cheek – Crystal Palace

The injury to Oxlade-Chamberlain has opened up an opportunity for Ruben Loftus-Cheek, who will now have a chance of making the plane for Russia.

The midfielder has impressed at Crystal Palace and he delivered an assured performance against Germany on his international debut. Although injuries have hindered his progress since he remains one of the only dynamic midfielders available to Gareth Southgate.

Against Germany, he completed 96.2% of his passes and completed four successful dribbles. There were a lot of people that thought the call came too soon, but he looked at home on the international stage and he will be unknown to a lot of the teams England are due to face.

Oxlade-Chamberlain was going to provide the power and pace in the England midfield. Loftus-Cheek may not be as experienced as the Liverpool man, but he can step up and perform a similar role. If he can finish the season strongly, he will have a great chance of making the squad.

England Training Session And Press Conference

(Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)

Jonjo Shelvey – Newcastle United

There are growing calls for the Newcastle United midfielder to be called up by Gareth Southgate and they will only increase with the news of Oxlade-Chamberlain’s injury.

Shelvey won’t be able to step into the same role, but he can provide different qualities and could be a worthy selection for England.

Newcastle’s recent surge up the league table have shown Shelvey in a good light and he has been a major reason for his team’s success.

The 26-year-old dictates the game from deep and has a passing range that can’t be matched by any other English player.

Against Arsenal, he was putting his team-mates in on goal at will and there is a place for his skills in the national set-up.

England have a number of quick attacking players and against better teams, Shelvey would provide a good option.

Southgate will need to set his side up to counter-attack and there is no better player to pick out the runs of Raheem Sterling and Jamie Vardy than the Newcastle midfielder.

There are risks to selecting the 26-year-old, but he deserves to be considered for the summer’s tournament.

(Photo by Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images)

Dele Alli – Tottenham

The Tottenham midfielder is going to go to the World Cup. Nobody can debate that, but he has found himself out of the starting eleven during recent friendly matches.

The injury to Oxlade-Chamberlain may benefit him, as there will now be a midfield position up for grabs.

Alli isn’t as comfortable in a central role as Oxlade-Chamberlain, but his goal threat and intelligent movement means that he could step into the starting eleven and play well.

The 22-year-old has had his critics this season, but a return of eight goals and ten assists in the Premier League underline the quality that he provides to a team.

Southgate will need to make sure Alli knows his defensive responsibilities and that the player carries them out to the letter, as England can’t afford to carry a midfield player.

At the age of 22, this summer could be an opportunity to break out for the Tottenham man.

It would be a risk to start him in a deeper role, but the rewards may be worth it.

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English Premier League

Liverpool fans licking lips at potential Mohamed Salah duel with Marcelo

Liverpool v Real Madrid is now the likely Champions League final, and Salah could leave Marcelo exposed.

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Real Madrid are now looking likely to be in the Champions League final against Liverpool after they defeated Bayern Munich at the Allianz Arena. After Joshua Kimmich gave Bayern the lead, it seemed the Bavarians might manage to upset the bookmakers and send Real crashing out. But goals from Marcelo and Marcos Asensio saw Real pick up a vital away win.

With Liverpool winning their first-leg against Roma 5-2, the two sides look well placed to make the final in Kiev.

Real Madrid might have won the game, but it was a performance that left Liverpool fans hopeful of facing Los Merengues in the Champions League final.

The Reds currently have perhaps the best player in world football today. Mohamed Salah has been a revelation since joining the side in the summer. Since arriving at Anfield from Roma he has scored 43 goals for the club and put his former side to the sword last night.

(Photo credit should read ODD ANDERSEN/AFP/Getty Images)

He infiltrated Roma’s weak and attack-minded left side over and over again in the first-leg and Liverpool fans believe he will do the same if they face Madrid.

Whilst Marcelo may have scored in the game, he did not put in the best of performances.

He left an acre of space for Kimmich to run into for Bayern’s goal. He struggled to deal with Thomas Muller at times, but if Arjen Robben had remained on the pitch it is fair to wonder if Marcelo may have had a more torrid time.

Liverpool fans are certainly excited at the prospect of Salah perhaps facing off with Marcelo in the Champions League final. Defending is not the Brazilian’s favourite aspect of his job and fans at Anfield feel that Salah might be able to leave him embarrassed if they go toe-to-toe.

Based on the evidence of the past two nights, it is hard to disagree with the Liverpool fans who feel Salah can leave Marcelo trailing…

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