As this Premier League season has shown already, many sides need bolstering in defence, whether they are at the bottom or top of the table. Now that the January transfer window has opened, it is team’s opportunities to improve and possibly make the difference between a title and runners-up, or survival and relegation. In terms of centre backs, there won’t be many more in demand than Southampton’s Virgil Van Dijk.
25 years of age and a Dutch international, Van Dijk’s reputation has soared since his switch from Scotland to the South Coast of England. A regular for club and country now, it is no surprise he is on many side’s radars, as he would comfortably settle into any Premier League defence right now. Southampton have developed a name for being a ‘selling club’, with Adam Lallana, Nathaniel Clyne and Dejan Lovren exiting in recent years and that’s just to Liverpool. So keeping Van Dijk could be tough if an English giant comes calling.
Manchester City, with whom the Dutchman has been linked by the Daily Mail, have been exposed severely this season, with Pep Guardiola still adjusting to the style of English football. Against Leicester City it was clear that the backline for them is simply not good enough anymore. Nicolas Otamendi has never made his mark since arriving for big money from Valencia last summer and John Stones is still raw and needs guidance to fulfil his potential, which is all he is for now.
City will be the stand-out contenders to secure any move for Van Dijk with the lure of Guardiola, the money to match any fee Southampton put on their player and, of course, Champions League football. He is confident, strong and quick, making the Dutchman a perfect player to fit into the City centre back void. In being brought up by Celtic and Southampton, as well as games for the Dutch national team, he is more than capable of playing out from the back and is assured on the ball – ideal for Guardiola’s methods. With Vincent Kompany seemingly beyond recovery, in terms of being a consistent part of the City team, Van Dijk has developed leadership qualities that City’s rear-guard desperately need.
In comparison to those City defenders, Van Dijk comes off superior in every department. He’s made more blocks (14), interceptions (51) and won more aerial duels (76%) than Otamendi and Stones in 19 games. In fact, for interceptions, he is the fourth best in the league. That authority and reading of the game he is demonstrating at St Mary’s every week is what City lack in abundance, as seen in defeats to Liverpool and Chelsea, when the pressure was on.
Signed for just £13 million, Van Dijk is another example of shrewd transfer business done by the Saints since their promotion to the top flight. City have the finances to afford what may be more than £30 million for the centre back, but it would be more than worth it as this season is showing. In their pursuit of the top four at least, with a title challenge in question, a Champions League tilt is also still possible, so reinforcement should be a priority this window. In this vein, Van Dijk to the Etihad is one to keep an eye out for.
However, it is not just City who will have Van Dijk on their shopping list. Liverpool have had a superb campaign so far and look the best side to challenge Chelsea for the title, but improving their defence could close the gap further. Dejan Lovren departed the Saints as the Dutch defender moved south but both have been vital to Southampton in their individual spells. A partnership at Anfield could flourish with the Croatian settled in and performing more like the player that scored a winner for the Saints at Anfield in 2013. Jurgen Klopp is one for a more high-intensity, all attacking eleven, but shoring up his backline could be the final piece of his already fine looking jigsaw.
Arsenal and Manchester United will surely also be sniffing if a move is on for Van Dijk from Claude Puel’s side. As form has dipped for Southampton over the Christmas period – with back-to-back defeats seeing in the New Year – the head of the young defender may have started to turn to a transfer. If the fee is right and he wants the move, he could be the biggest transfer of this January window.