Virgil van Dijk’s attributes on and off the pitch have made Liverpool better, but the player is still improving himself, according to manager Jurgen Klopp.
The Netherlands captain has made a huge difference to the side’s defensive capability with 17 Premier League clean sheets contributing to just 19 goals conceded in 32 matches this season.
Since he arrived in January 2018 in a £75-million deal, Van Dijk has racked up a total of 28 clean sheets in all competitions, and his composure and calming presence has had a noticeable effect on the players around him.
Van Dijk is seen by many as a Liverpool captain in waiting – he has already worn the armband a number of times on a temporary basis – and Klopp recognised the impact the world’s most expensive defender has had.
‘Yes, he improved us, and I think he has improved as well since he is here,’ said Klopp ahead of Van Dijk’s return to former club Southampton on Friday.
‘That’s what you expect and what you hope for. If a player comes in you hope he makes the whole team better.
‘That’s how good players are, and he’s obviously a very good player.
‘He’s so important for us, not only as a player, but as a person as well. I couldn’t say a bad word about him even if I wanted to.
‘He’s a different player to the one he was at Southampton. He was good there, really good, but with all the different games he’s played now, and being part of the Champions League quarter-final, semi-final, final, all that stuff, that all helps you as a player.
‘And for a centre half he is still young, there is still a lot to come. Hopefully he can stay healthy and everything will be fine.’
Southampton may be in a relegation battle, five points clear of the bottom three, but they have won three of their past four league matches, and that has made Klopp wary ahead of the trip to St Mary’s.
The German has been impressed with the job Southampton counterpart Ralph Hasenhuttl has done since taking over from Mark Hughes in December.
‘I have to say the job he is doing there is incredible. He brought young players in, academy players, a pretty brave decision,’ said Klopp.
‘It’s a really good side and the analysis was really interesting because it doesn’t look like a team that fights to stay in the league.
‘The games they lost, they were unlucky rather than playing bad, I would say.
‘I think they are eighth in the form table, last 15 games at least, so that means they are fighting for the league and that gives you good information about the intensity of the game probably.’
Liverpool have announced they will be opening the Kop for the 30th anniversary of the Hillsborough disaster, in which 96 fans lost their lives, for families and supporters who would like to attend for a period of reflection.
There will not be a public memorial service and there will be no activity inside the stadium on 15 April, but the ground will be open, subject to obtaining a free ticket from the club in advance for anyone wishing to attend.
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