Virgil van Dijk has told Jurgen Klopp how to fix Liverpool problem that £25m transfers couldn’t solve


Virgil van Dijk’s prediction over Liverpool’s future is facing a major test, but it’s still better than Brendan Rodgers’ attempt.

For the first time since 2018, Liverpool’s defence is anything but sturdy.

From 32 games in all competitions, they have conceded 42 goals. Meanwhile, they have kept just 10 clean sheets with Alisson Becker in goal for eight of them. From such totals, 28 of those goals have come from their 20 Premier League games to date with the Reds keeping just five clean sheets in the English top-flight.

It’s a far cry from last season where Alisson kept 20 clean sheets to win the Premier League Golden Glove for a second time, and Liverpool’s total of 26 goals conceded was the lowest in the division. They also boasted the best defence when winning the Premier League in 2019/20, conceding 33 goals as Alisson and Adrian kept a combined 15 clean sheets, as well as in 2018/19 as the Brazilian won the Golden Glove for the first time with 21 clean sheets and the Reds shipped just 22 goals.

Previously boasting a notoriously leaky defence, Liverpool’s recruitment in 2018 addressed such issues as Virgil van Dijk was brought in from Southampton for a club-record £75m in January. The Dutchman would have an immediate impact as the Reds reached the Champions League final that season, before the £65m signing of Alisson and £43.7m arrival of Fabinho from AS Monaco the following summer completed their transformation.

Previously boasting a notoriously leaky defence, Liverpool’s recruitment in 2018 addressed such issues as Virgil van Dijk was brought in from Southampton for a club-record £75m in January. The Dutchman would have an immediate impact as the Reds reached the Champions League final that season, before the £65m signing of Alisson and £43.7m arrival of Fabinho from AS Monaco the following summer completed their transformation.

Teenager Stefan Bajcetic has performed admirably in Fabinho’s place as the Reds’ holding midfielder in recent weeks but, with an engine-room revamp planned for the summer, it’s clear Liverpool’s midfield could look very different next season.

However, while Van Dijk isn’t being put out to pasture just yet, such surgery has perhaps already taken place on the Reds’ defence with the Dutchman previously suggesting his replacements are already at Anfield.

Sat alongside Ibrahima Konate and Joe Gomez during the club’s virtual Alder Hey Christmas visits in 2021, he told a young fan: “These two are going to take my place at one point though.” Aged 23 and 25, the two centre-backs could well be Liverpool’s future.

Admittedly such a prediction seems more accurate regarding the Frenchman rather than his English counterpart at this current time. Having found his game-time at centre-back limited following his return from a serious knee injury at the start of last season, Gomez has really struggled for confidence and consistency this year.

“We have great role models in front of us,” he said of the Dutchman and Joel Matip. “They are both obviously very experienced now and still at the top of their game, and have prime years ahead of them.

“It helps give context, I suppose. Virgil had gone 26 when he arrived, so me looking at what he achieved from that age on, knowing I still have the opportunity to try and have that time ahead of me, is obviously something to chase and aspire towards.

“What Virg has done is going to make him a legend at the club in world football. That’s the target. To aim high helps you achieve as much as you can. Ibou being even younger than me, it’s obvious we have time ahead of us.”

Critics might scoff but the future of Liverpool’s defence could already be in place at Anfield. And it’s already faring a hell of a lot better than the pairing Klopp’s predecessor, Brendan Rodgers, once claimed had sorted out the Reds’ backline for the next 10 years.

It was August 2013 when the Northern Irishman completed a double deadline day swoop to land Mamadou Sakho from Paris Saint-Germain for £18m and a 20-year-old Tiago Ilori in a £7m deal from Sporting Lisbon.

“I wanted to try to protect the present and the future of the club,” Rodgers said at the time. “Centre-halves are so hard to find. You look at some teams and they have ageing centre-halves because it is a struggle to get a really good one.

“We were fortunate in that two became available, one that we had been tracking for a year in Tiago Ilori, a young talent but who can be a big talent.

“He is 6′ 3”, super quick, power, can jump, and he just needs to adapt to the pace and physicality of the Premier League. He is one for the future, but he can be a really big talent.

“Sakho is 23 but he is an experienced player. He has senior international caps and looks an absolute monster in training. He is one who is ready for now and that is what we want.

“We had a chance to do that and protect the club for maybe the next ten years and that is what we have done.”

Alas, Rodgers’ lofty prediction never came close to coming true. Sakho would make 19 appearances for Liverpool in his first season at the club as the Reds came agonisingly close to winning the Premier League. Yet they’d struggle for defensive consistency, conceding a hefty 50 goals with such a leakiness ultimately costing them come the end of the campaign.

In and out of the Liverpool team under both Rodgers and then Klopp, the Frenchman missed the end of the 2015/16 as he was investigated by UEFA for violating anti-doping rules. Testing positive for a fat-burner, the ban would later expire after the substance was found to not be in the banned substance list.

However, Sakho’s conduct on Liverpool’s pre-season tour of America saw him bombed out by Klopp regardless. Banished to train with the Under-21s, he spent the second half of the 2016/17 season on loan at Crystal Palace before departing for Selhurst Park on a permanent basis in a £26m deal at the end of August 2017.

He would be on the move again four years later as injuries derailed his final seasons with Palace. Having made just six appearances in 2020/21, he returned to France with Montpellier on a Bosman transfer in the summer of 2021.

Set to turn 33 later this month, the £18m signing made 80 appearances for Liverpool over his four seasons at the club, with 56 coming in the Premier League, and his final Reds appearance coming in April 2016 – less than three years after his Anfield arrival.

Yet he at least fared a lot better than Ilori, who would have to wait until after Klopp’s arrival at Liverpool in October 2015 to even be handed his Reds debut. Having failed to make an appearance in 2013/14 following his £7m move to Anfield, the Portuguese spent the second half of that season on loan at Granada, making nine appearances, before registering 15 appearances on loan at Bordeaux during the 2014/15 campaign.

Sent on loan again in the summer of 2015, he joined Aston Villa but failed to make an appearance for the Premier League side before being recalled early in January 2016. Handed his debut as part of a makeshift centre-back pairing alongside Jose Enrique against Exeter City in the FA Cup, he’d start the third round replay at Anfield before making what would prove to be the final of his three appearances for Liverpool on this day seven years ago as they lost to West Ham United in the fourth round.

Never featuring again under Klopp, he was sold to Championship side Reading for £3.75m in January 2018 and while he would be limited to eight appearances in his first half-season at the club, he would total 64 appearances come the end of his two-year stay at the Madejski Stadium.

But despite returning to Portugal and to Sporting in January 2019, his fortunes did not improve. Featuring just 24 times, he joined Lorient on loan in February 2021 but failed to make an appearance as injury disrupted his time in France. 12 appearances would follow on loan at Boavista in 2021/22, while he has only made four appearances since joining Pacos de Ferreira on loan last summer.

Now 29, Ilori has never looked like becoming the ‘big talent’ for the future Rodgers predicted he could be. Throw in Sakho’s failings and it was a poorly-invested £25m from Liverpool, with their defensive issues only rectified following Klopp’s arrival and the signing of Van Dijk in 2018.

So much for Rodgers ‘protecting the club’ for the next ten years! Had they lived up to such hype, they could still be at Anfield now. Instead, neither Sakho or Ilori played for the Reds after 2016. Meanwhile, this pairing of the future never even lined up together, with it at least a blessing that the club made a small profit on them, thanks to Crystal Palace, despite selling the latter at a loss.

Gomez and, to a lesser extent, Konate might have had their critics this season but they have already both contributed far more than the aforementioned pairing. Whether they can live up to Van Dijk’s prediction and be the future of Liverpool’s defence, overcoming the Reds’ recent struggles as Klopp looks to solve such issues again, only time will tell.

At the very least, history will look back on them rather more kindly than Rodgers’ lauded £25m centre-back partnership that never was.

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