Van Dijk works his art in Liverpool title push
Virgil van Dijk returns to his former club Southampton on Friday night hoping to help his Liverpool side retake pole position in the Premier League.
The Merseysiders are in a dogfight with Manchester City for the title and if they win their 33rd game of the campaign, they will go two points clear of Pep Guardiola's men who are in FA Cup action this weekend against Brighton.
Southampton are in a scrap of their own. Ralph Hasenhuttl's players are 16th in the Premier League and only five points above the relegation zone with seven games remaining.
Teams such as Burnley, Brighton and Newcastle United are involved in the tussle.
That Southampton are flailing might have a tad to do with van Dijk's departure. With him in their ranks, Southampton finished the 2016/2017 season in eighth place with 46 points.
Since he left 15 months ago for a record fee of 85 million euros, Southampton have struggled.
They conceded 48 goals in 38 games during van Dijk's last season. In 31 games so far in the 2018/2019 camapign, they have conceded 50 times.
The fee Liverpool paid for the Dutchman raised a few eyebrows. But van Dijk's performances for Liverpool and the Netherlands have made the price appear something of a bargain.
A vignette of his worth came in the closing stages of Liverpool's game against Tottenham Hotspur at Anfield on 31 March.
With the game at 1-1, Tottenham's Moussa Sissoko and Son Heung-min surged towards the Liverpool goal.
Van Dijk decided to leave Sissoko with the ball and the midfielder skewed his shot high over the bar. Liverpool claimed their winner in stoppage time.
Andy Robertson, van Dijk's teammate, said: "Virgil made the right decision there. Look, it's getting to the point of the season where both teams wanted to win it.
"They're fighting for Champions League spots and they needed three points and we needed three points. That's why we brought on extra attackers and we went for it and tried to get the three points and luckily we did.
"But these situations are going to happen. We're maybe going to get a wee bit exposed at the back but there's nobody better to deal with it. Luckily we got away with one there and they've not got away with it."
Van Dijk's performances have catapulted him into contention for individual awards as Liverpool chase their first top flight title since 1990.
"He's so important to us not only as a player but as a person," said Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp. "I couldn't say a bad word about him even if I wanted to."
So far van Dijk's medals have come from his three years in Scotland at Celtic where he won three champioships and the 2015 League Cup.
Since moving to England, he has been on the losing side in a League Cup final with Southampton in 2017 and with Liverpool in the 2018 Champions League final.
Klopp's men are on course for another visit to that competition's showdown - they host Porto on Tuesday in the first leg of the quarter-final on 9 April.
"He is a different player to when he was at Southampton," added Klopp. "Yes he has improved us and he has improved since he came here as well. Champions League quarter-finals, semi-finals and a final help you as a player."
Daily news briefReceive essential international news every morningSubscribe