December 30, 2017 / 8:35 PM / 6 months ago

SHOWCASE-Soccer-Vardy goal underlines Liverpool's need for Van Dijk

LONDON, Dec 30 (Reuters) - Liverpool’s 75 million pound ($101 million) defender Virgil van Dijk needed to watch only the first three minutes of his new club’s match against Leicester City on Saturday to discover the challenge that lies ahead.

Van Dijk, who will officially join Liverpool from Southampton when the transfer window opens next week, barely had a chance to take his seat in the Anfield stand before his team mates gifted Leicester the lead following a trio of mistakes.

They initially made a mess of playing out from the back and when Leicester’s Vicente Iborra beat Emre Can to a loose ball, Liverpool’s defence left a gap wide enough for him to play in the untracked Riyad Mahrez, who in turn squared for Jamie Vardy to scoop the ball into an empty net.

Juergen Klopp’s team recovered admirably and should have won by a far greater margin than 2-1 — earned by Mohamed Salah’s second-half brace — but the weakness of their defence was once again a point of discussion.

Fourth-placed Liverpool have now conceded 24 times in 21 Premier League games this season, 12 more than leaders Manchester City, seven more than seventh-placed Burnley and only three fewer than the team at the bottom of the table, West Bromwich Albion.

Van Dijk’s arrival should help, not least because he does not make mistakes such as those that led to Vardy’s goal on Saturday.

According to Opta, the 26-year-old is one of only four central defenders who have played 60 or more Premier League games in the past three seasons without making an error that resulted in a goal.

Statistics also show that he made more tackles and interceptions and had a superior pass accuracy last season than all of Liverpool’s current centrebacks. Hence the resilience and creativity of Klopp’s back line should improve markedly.

Van Dijk’s arrival will also give Klopp a fresh selection option in central defence, where he is rotating Joel Matip, Dejan Lovren and Ragnar Klavan.

In contrast, Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho and Chelsea manager Antonio Conte both have five centrebacks to pick from, while Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola has four and is reportedly chasing a fifth.

Klopp is seemingly so desperate for Van Dijk’s arrival that earlier this week he described the transfer fee — a world record for a defender — as “not really interesting”.

He admitted on Saturday that he does not know the length of the Dutchman’s contract.

“My guess is maybe five or six years,” he said.

His only concern appears to be ensuring Vardy is the last opposition player to be given a free hit at Liverpool’s goal.

$1 = 0.7401 pounds Reporting by Matt Westby, editing by Pritha Sarkar

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