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Virgil van Dijk and Dejan Lovren's instant connection proves promising for Liverpool

00:30 SAST 2018/02/23
Van Dijk Lovren split pic
The duo have only started together twice, but the evidence thus far suggests that they combine well in the heart of Jurgen Klopp's rearguard

During the stealth, swift build-up to the official announcement of Liverpool’s recruitment of Virgil van Dijk from Southampton on December 27, the memes of a spooked Dejan Lovren surged in.

The widespread interpretation of the club parting with £75 million - pulverising the previous world-record fee for a defender - was that it would expire the Croatian’s regular appearances in the rearguard.

And so, the GIF-ignominy of the 28-year-old continued, reaching a crescendo three days later when the celebrated acquisition was a guest at Anfield for the hosting of Leicester City.

It was on that afternoon, however, during the first interaction between the centre-backs, that a more accurate reading was provided of what would follow at Liverpool.

Van Dijk’s quick pre-match tour of the stadium ended with the Netherlands international positioned in a corridor linking the players’ entrance and the home dressing room to greet his new colleagues.

Ragnar Klavan and Joe Gomez, two of Jurgen Klopp’s options in the heart of defence, received a standard clasped handshake. Next to pass through, all eyes locked on the moment, was Lovren.

The fellow former Saint caught a glimpse of Van Dijk before he rounded the corner of the entryway, and sharply stuck out his right hand, removing one of his in-ear pieces with the other hand.

While most didn’t break stride to say their hellos, Lovren stopped for an extended period, exchanging smiles and a few words with the new signing.

The warm introduction ended with a few taps on each other’s shoulders. Since then, their pair's relationship has swelled. They share a very good rapport off the pitch, and despite only having a tiny sample to work with, have functioned really well together on it.

Van Dijk started three games with Joel Matip before Klopp first tested his compatibility alongside Lovren in the 2-2 home draw with Tottenham.

Bar both penalty incidents against Spurs, still decisions of disagreement, the pair were excellent. They produced 22 clearances combined, with Van Dijk winning all his aerial challenges and the pair combining to stymie Harry Kane, who was only effective when scoring one of his two chances from the spot. 

The second sighting of the partnership was in the 5-0 destruction of Porto in the first leg of the Champions League last-16 clash. At Estadio do Dragao, Lovren contributed a key pass and the duo offered five tackles, as many interceptions as well as 10 clearances. Van Dijk managed more touches than anyone else in the encounter last Wednesday, posting a duel success of 77%.

Whereas the Dutchman’s early collaborations with Matip looked unconvincing at times - too many in-game position changes and the attacking of balls in the other’s zone - the synergy with Lovren seems more comfortable.

Again, there is only limited evidence to work off, but the assessment of the Croatian supports this theory. “To be honest, maybe I didn't expect that we would be so quick [to settle] together,” Lovren said as he reflected on their two starts as a pair.

“But when you are a top centre-back, I think it is normal and Virgil is one of them. Of course he needs some time to adapt in some moments because Southampton to Liverpool is different.

“He understands what the manager wants, sometimes I have to remind him also. I help him with as much as I know and can.

“It is a difficult period sometimes to adapt, but he is managing it quite well. Everyone is behind him and giving him support.

“We are a football team that likes to play with high pressure and I think he does this very good."

Van Dijk’s last three performances, in particular, have been stately. His smirking and steeliness amid the barrage of boos upon his return to Southampton on February 11 was perhaps most instructive on his unfazed nature, with Klopp underscoring as much afterwards.

In his six appearances at Liverpool, the No.4 has won 74% of his total duels across all competitions and 81% of those in the air, averaging six clearances per game as well as 83 touches and 63 passes.

Beyond the impressive numbers, the 26-year-old's authority, ability to communicate effectively as well as his traits that blend well with the blueprint - his long diagonals for example - have enthused those at Melwood.

And as Klopp has stated, this is merely the introduction to him; the best version of Van Dijk will materialise once he has been pushed through a full-throttle pre-season, which is quite something for everyone affiliated with Liverpool to anticipate.