Virgil van Dijk key to Liverpool ending long wait for silverware, Latest Football News - The New Paper

Virgil van Dijk key to Liverpool ending long wait for silverware

Liverpool's long wait for a major trophy could end this Sunday morning (Singapore time) with a sixth European Cup, but the foundations for a return to the pinnacle of Europe were laid last January in trusting Juergen Klopp's judgment to make Virgil van Dijk the world's most expensive defender.

The Dutchman arrived for £75 million (S$131m) and, in 18 months, led Liverpool to two Champions League finals, gave Manchester City a tough fight in the English Premier League and became the first defender in 14 years to be crowned the PFA Player of the Year.

During Klopp's first two years at Anfield, Liverpool were capable of the spectacular, but always undermined by defensive disorganisation.

Van Dijk, 27, has restored order thanks to his power, pace and poise, but also with his leadership that has helped foster improvement in the emerging talents of Andy Robertson, Trent Alexander-Arnold and Joe Gomez.

The difference he made has not gone unnoticed.

"Liverpool have grown hugely as a team recently and a lot of that is thanks to van Dijk," legendary Italian centre-back Franco Baresi recently told AFP.

Tottenham Hotspur stand in the way of Liverpool rounding off the vast improvement made since van Dijk's arrival with their first trophy in seven years.

And it was a meeting with Spurs at Anfield in late March that best encapsulated his abilities as the all-round defender.

With the score at 1-1 with five minutes left, Moussa Sissoko led a two-on-one counter-attack, but van Dijk stood his ground, marking Son Heung Min and forcing Sissoko to take a shot with his weaker left foot. Sissoko's strike flew well over and Liverpool went on to win 2-1.

"That shows why Liverpool paid more than £70m for van Dijk," said Spurs boss Mauricio Pochettino, who will be hoping that his men find a way past the Holland international on Sunday. - AFP