A wise in­vest­ment

The case to name Van Dijk Premier League’s player of 2019 gains mo­men­tum

The Witness - - SPORT -

VIR­GIL van Dijk re­turns to his for­mer club Southamp­ton to­day with a grow­ing rep­u­ta­tion as one of the most in­flu­en­tial fig­ures in the Premier League ti­tle race be­tween his Liver­pool side and Manch­ester City.

For all their at­tack­ing threat, Jür­gen Klopp’s men owe a huge debt to their Dutch de­fender, signed from Southamp­ton 15 months ago for an eye-wa­ter­ing £75 mil­lion (over R1,4 bil­lion) fee, the size of which raised eye­brows.

But now the in­vest­ment looks one of the wis­est in re­cent Premier League history, with one Van Dijk mo­ment in par­tic­u­lar, dur­ing the week­end win over Tot­ten­ham, be­ing held up as an ex­am­ple of his peer­less form.

With the game finely poised at 1-1 at An­field on Sun­day, Tot­ten­ham had a two-on-one break, fea­tur­ing Moussa Sissoko and Son He­ung-min against the Liver­pool cen­tre-half.

Van Dijk took the de­ci­sion to leave Sissoko with the ball, forc­ing him into a shot that the ner­vous Tot­ten­ham man missed hope­lessly, paving the way for Liver­pool to snatch a dra­matic last-gasp win­ner.

“Of course,” said team-mate Andy Robert­son when asked if that one mo­ment show­cased Van Dijk’s skills to their ut­most. “He made the right de­ci­sion there. Look, it’s get­ting to the point of the season where both teams wanted to win it. If it’s maybe in the first month of the season, it prob­a­bly sees out as a 1-1 draw.

“But they’re fight­ing for Champions League spots and they needed three points and we needed three points.

“That’s why we brought on ex­tra at­tack­ers and we went for it and tried to get the three points and luck­ily we did.

“But these sit­u­a­tions are go­ing to hap­pen. We’re maybe go­ing to get a wee bit ex­posed at the back but there’s no­body bet­ter to deal with it.

“Luck­ily we got away with one there and they’ve not got away with it.”

Robert­son was not the only ad­mirer fol­low­ing the Dutch­man’s role in that vic­tory and, with ev­ery pass­ing week, the case for Van Dijk to be named as the Premier League’s player of the year is gaining mo­men­tum.

Liver­pool’s pro­tracted bid to sign the de­fender from Southamp­ton, which had been thwarted the previous sum­mer, was met with dis­be­lief by many as he be­came the most ex­pen­sive de­fender in the history of the game.

But his dis­plays last season, in help­ing Liver­pool reach the Champions League fi­nal, answered many of the doubters and Van Dijk’s form has, if any­thing, been even more im­pres­sive this season.

Manch­ester City’s Ra­heem Ster­ling is an­other strong can­di­date for the end-of­sea­son in­di­vid­ual awards but Van Dijk has made a strong case and the only slight con­cern for Klopp af­ter the Tot­ten­ham vic­tory was the sight of his key de­fender us­ing an ice pack on a mus­cle in­jury af­ter the game.

How­ever, con­cerns he could be a fit­ness doubt for the re­turn to his old club were quickly dis­pelled when Liver­pool showed footage of the 27-year-old tak­ing part in a full train­ing ses­sion on Wed­nes­day. “He’s so im­por­tant to us not only as a player but as a per­son. I couldn’t say a bad word about him even if I wanted,” said Klopp.

“Yes, he has im­proved us and he has im­proved since he came here as well. He is a dif­fer­ent player to when he was at Southamp­ton. Champions League quar­ter-fi­nals, semi-fi­nals and fi­nal help you as a player.”

Mean­while, this week­end also features the FA Cup semi-fi­nals. Manch­ester City host Brighton at 6.30 pm to­mor­row and Wat­ford host Wolves at 5 pm on Sun­day. —

AFP.

PHOTO: GETTY IM­AGES

Liver­pool’s big in­vest­ment in Vir­gil van Dijk is pay­ing off.

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