Liverpool’s Virgil van Dijk returns to the club who sold him in a world record fee for a defender on Sunday in the Premier League still unsure as to who will partner him at the heart of Jurgen Klopp’s defence.
Van Dijk has experienced a mixed start to his Liverpool career since joining for 75 million pounds ($104.1 million) from Southampton last month after a prolonged and sometimes acrimonious six-month pursuit.
The 26-year-old Dutchman scored the late winner on his debut in the FA Cup tie against Everton but missed the league win over Manchester City, before struggling in defeats against Swansea City and West Bromwich Albion when he was partnered by Cameroonian Joel Matip.
After being dropped to the bench for the win over Huddersfield Town, when Dejan Lovren played alongside Matip, Van Dijk was restored to the defence alongside the Croat in last week’s 2-2 home draw with Tottenham Hotspur, impressing up to the point he conceded a controversial last-minute penalty.
Former Liverpool midfielder Jan Molby is among those who believes Klopp must settle on a favoured defensive combination to give them the best chance of developing an effective partnership.
“It wouldn’t surprise me if Klopp at some stage decides that Lovren and Van Dijk is his preferred centre back partnership,” Molby wrote in his column for the Liverpool Echo.
“I think Lovren playing alongside Van Dijk instead of Matip may actually improve him (Lovren).”
Van Dijk arrived with a reputation for being an organiser who could finally bring discipline to a defence which has struggled badly, particularly from set-pieces, under Klopp.
While there were signs of greater stability against Spurs, the two penalties conceded in the game suggested the old problems have yet to be eradicated. “There’s a part of him which just switches off when it is a bit too easy, which if he’s going to be a captain he has to eradicate from his game,” said former Southampton captain Matt Le Tissier on Sky Sports.
“He needs to be a better organiser, which will come with experience, because you need to have that ability to make sure everybody is organised, even when you’re not having a good game yourself.”
There is probably no better place to show that than his old ground St Mary’s, where he can expect a hostile reception, particularly if he plays alongside Lovren. The pair are among six former Saints players who have joined Liverpool since 2014, while a seventh, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, arrived via Arsenal.