When Virgil van Dijk returns to St Marys Stadium tomorrow evening he will be braced for a frosty reception.
The Dutch defender left Southampton for Liverpool in January 2018 under a cloud after a drawn-out and bitter tug of war created friction between the two clubs and alienated Saints fans.
The world record fee for a defender of £75m quelled Southampton supporters to some extent, and with tempers having calmed 15 months on its clear that the deal was a good one for all parties.
Van Dijk left the south coast a talented and promising centre-back. He returns tomorrow the finished product: one of the worlds best in his position, the leading figure in an historic Premier League title push and a strong favourite to win the PFA Player of the Year award.
Confidence is understandably sky-high for the determined and ambitious 27-year-old, meaning any hostility he does receive from home fans is unlikely to dent the pristine set of armour hes developed over the last year.
After all, he has a title race and a Champions League quarter-final to worry about instead as he pursues a first trophy since winning the Scottish Premiership with Celtic in 2015.
Van Dijk cut his teeth in the Premier League with Southampton (Source: Getty)
“Winning the Premier League title puts you in the history books forever and makes you a legend,” Van Dijk told Four Four Two magazine last month. “Thats why you play football. You want to become a legend.”
Win at a Southampton rejuvenated under Ralph Hasenhuttl and Van Dijk and his team-mates will take one of the six required steps towards helping Liverpool win their first top flight title since 1990.
Victory would send them top of the Premier League again with five matches remaining, putting the pressure back on Manchester City, who this weekend are otherwise occupied by an FA Cup semi-final against Brighton.
With some £170m spent in the summer on Alisson, Fabinho, Naby Keita and Xherdan Shaqiri, its not right to call Van Dijk the missing puzzle piece for Liverpool this campaign.
But with the attacking trio of Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mane and Roberto Firmino already consistent beforehand, the giant defender has been the root cause of their biggest improvement.
He has quickly established himself as a reliable rock at the heart of defence, helping them record the best defensive record in the division, with 17 clean sheets and just 19 goals conceded in 32 matches.
Jurgen Klopp has been delighted with Van Dijk's impact (Source: Getty)
Van Dijks towering frame allows him to be dominant in the air, but its his silky and varied passing in possession, cool head and organisational ability which stands out. Despite having been at the club a relatively short amount of time, he is a leading voice on the pitch.
“Its leadership. Thats who I am,” he said, when asked what he brings to a team. “In my position, you have to lead, organise and be an example. I know what I want.”
Jurgen Klopp had to be sure he possessed such qualities when pushing Liverpool to put Van Dijks name into footballs annals alongside Cristiano Ronaldo, Gareth Bale and Luis Suarez as one of the most expensive players of all time.
The German manager is certainly pleased with his decision now.
“He has improved us and I think he has improved since he has been here,” Klopp said this week. “Thats what you expect when a player comes in, that he makes the whole team betRead More – Source