How has Virgil Van Dijk filled the boots of Toby Alderweireld at Southampton?
Whenever one of the Top Six comes to Southampton, more often than not the storyline is a return of a former Saint. Tottenham’s visit to St Mary’s on the 28th is no different, as Mauricio Pochettino and Toby Alderweireld will be arriving on familiar soil.
The latter was a big part of Spurs’ title charge last season, enjoying a faultless debut season at White Hart Lane after arriving for £11 million from Atletico Madrid. Southampton were disappointed at not signing the Belgian permanently after a similarly impressive loan spell in 2014/15, but his replacement is arguably the most sought-after centre-back in the league.
Virgil Van Dijk has become a regular in gossip columns because of his displays since his £12 million transfer to the South Coast from Glasgow outfit Celtic in August 2015, with the Daily Mail reporting that Manchester City are ready to bid £50m in January.
Considering City paid a similar fee for John Stones this summer, it is hard to argue that the Southampton defender is not better value for money. Whilst the England international has regularly come under scrutiny for mistakes for both Everton and his new club, Van Dijk has been a figure of calm; such is his leadership at the back, his manager Claude Puel has even given him the captain’s armband on European nights this season.
Currently third in Squawka’s performance rankings this season, the Dutchman has played every minute of the Saints’ league campaign so far, but has not registered a single defensive error according to Squawka and has won the most aerial duels in the league; unsurprising given he stands at a monstrous 6’4.
Yet his physical strength is only one part of his game; for someone his size, he is very quick and isn’t fazed when up against a quick forward like Sergio Aguero or Sadio Mané, as his last-ditch tackle on the Liverpool attacker during their clash at St Mary’s in November showed.
But it is going forward where van Dijk can really excel, and the comparisons with him and his former manager Ronald Koeman are obvious; both came through the Groningen academy, and whilst the Saints defender’s goal record is nowhere near that of the Barcelona legend, van Dijk is a threat from set-pieces.
The Saints’ famous win over Inter Milan in November was an example of how good he can be. Wearing the armband and 1-0 down at half-time after Mauro Icardi’s goal, the Dutchman having been fouled in the build-up, van Dijk visibly raised his and his teammate’s games. It was his goal that levelled the scoreline, and stopped Inter dead in their tracks. The Italian giants were visibly fearful every time the former Celtic man went forward, and his display was perfect from a captain’s perspective.
His manager Puel admitted in a press conference that the Dutchman could become one of the best defenders in the world, and that is likely to mean Southampton isn’t his final destination. Whilst the club won’t entertain losing their crown jewel in January because of the size of the task in replacing him, the summer may be a different story altogether.
Having signed a contract until 2022 means that he won’t go cheap, and the Telegraph have reported that the club’s valuation of the Dutchman is £60 million meaning any transfer would have to be a record move for a defender.
The report indicates that the Saints hierarchy believe he is capable of playing for any of the world’s biggest clubs, and it is hard to argue with that. The chances of Van Dijk going into the away dressing room at St Mary’s in an upcoming season are very high, but unlike Alderweireld, the Dutchman may be much harder to replace.
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