3 Jan 2018

Who will partner record signing Van Dijk at the heart of Liverpool's defence?

The recent arrival of £75m Virgil Van Dijk has had Liverpool fans scratching their heads as they wonder who will be his regular partner at the heart of their ambitious defence.

The Reds finished 2017 unbeaten in fifteen matches across all competitions but, with their new record signing touching down on New Year's Day, someone is set to lose their place. Van Dijk, formerly of Celtic, hasn't been brought in to sit on the bench.

Jurgen Klopp spent the last few weeks of 2017 rotating his three existing centre-backs, Dejan Lovren, Joel Matic, and Ragnar Klavan, but now he may be set to decide on one who will partner his new crown jewel. Rather ironically, Van Dijk has followed in the footsteps of Lovren in making a big-money move from Southampton to Anfield.

The two were never teammates; Lovren signed for Liverpool in 2013 whereas Van Dijk moved to the South coast for £11m in 2015. However, they are now teammates and may possibly the first-choice pairing for the rest of the Premier League campaign.

32-year-old Klavan was the unlikely New Year hero as he nodded a last-gasp winner at Turf Moor to beat Burnley and, in doing so, he became the first ever Estonian to score in the English top flight. However, his advancing years look set to get the better of him on his quest for a first-team spot.

At 26, Joel Matic does have youth on his side. The German-born Cameroon international started Liverpool's December 30th match against Leicester at the expense of Klavan. Of the two, he is most likely to give Lovren a run for his money in the quest to partner Van Dijk, although Lovren still looks to be the obvious choice.

He was regarded as one of the best centre backs in the business when he left Southampton but a couple of error strewn seasons had many predicting his downfall long before Van Dijk's controversial switch. As far back as the summer, many thought his arrival could spell the end for Lovren. He was withdrawn in the Reds last defeat of 2017, 4-1 at Wembley against Spurs, and feared for his future.

However, of the four, Lovren is the only player going to this summer's World Cup in Russia. Estonia, Cameroon, and, most surprisingly, Netherlands did not qualify but Lovren's Croatia did. His chances of making it past the group stages were reduced dramatically in the wake of the draw though, Croatia tumbled to 40/1 with Oddschecker after drawing Iceland, Nigeria, and Argentina.

With the summer festival of football fast approaching, Lovren will be keen to get as many minutes as possible under his belt. The combined price of him and Van Dijk is £95m and, for that sort of investment, fans will be eager to see them paired together. Can the calming influence of Van Dijk take the pressure off his much-maligned partner and see him return to the form of 2013?

With a Champions League last sixteen clash to look forward too, Jurgen Klopp might prefer to find himself a settled and consistent centre back pairing, with Lovren by far the strongest candidate to sit alongside the record signing.


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