In recent years Southampton have become famed in the footballing world for their astute deals in business and undeniable eye for talent. However, after last summer’s departure of Toby Alderweireld, even Southampton fans worried how a player of that quality could be replaced. The media and fans alike believed that the previously lauded Southampton transfer committee, had finally met their match. But dare I say it, they may well have surpassed themselves once again with the signing of Virgil Van Dijk.
The slow start to the season and early exit from Europe reinforced those fears; this coincided with the protracted negotiations to bring in the clubs number one target, Celtic’s number 5.
After much haggling and dispute, an agreement was struck between both parties, allowing Virgil Van Dijk to join Southampton.
Since Van Dijk took to his place in the side alongside Jose Fonte, the defence has once again found its feet. Its no surprise that as a result, the beautiful football and results that fans became so accustomed to last season has returned.
The Dutchman’s influence on the team is clear for any Southampton fan to see; a quick look at football statistic site WhoScored proves just that.
Since Van Dijk’s Premier League debut versus West Bromwich Albion, only eight other players in the league have averaged a higher performance score.
His dominance in the air is also reflected by winning an average of 5.3 aerial duels per game – target men Christian Benteke, Rudy Gestede and Troy Deeney are the only players to have won more duels than the Dutch giant. Van Dijk also holds two man of the match performances and two goals in just seven appearances. As dangermen from set pieces come, Van Dijk is as good as they get.
Whilst Van Dijk’s defensive ability is a joy to behold, his influence on the pitch runs far deeper than tackles, headers and blocks. At moments of high pressure, Van Dijk remains as confident and cool on the ball as ever, ensuring to find the right pass.
That right pass can be anything from a midfield splitting ball, a 40 yard Hollywood ping to Sadio Mane or an inch perfect chip to an overlapping fullback.
These traits that make up a ball playing centre half breed confidence throughout the entire team.
Without this so desired confidence and brand of players, Southampton’s style of play would do more harm than good.
However, perhaps one of his greatest traits so far has been what many thought would be his early downfall, settling in to the Premier League. Van Dijk has taken to the Premier League like chips to mayonnaise, forming a formidable partnership with Jose Fonte as the core of the team. A player can hold all the ability and physical presence they wish, but without communication and being in the right place at the right time, that ability is rendered useless.
Much to the annoyance of Celtic fans, Van Dijk recently told the media how he has learnt more in five games at Southampton than his entire time at Celtic Park. Such recognition for the standard of our play and management can only bode well for the future. Should we have ever expected anything else? After all, Southampton’s latest gem was hand picked by fellow countryman, Ronald Koeman, and the almighty black box.