Virgil van Dijk speaks from the experience of being a record-breaking addition to the Liverpool rearguard who has had a transformative effect. He believes Alisson Becker has the footballing skills to be another.
The Dutchman provided a remedy to one of Liverpool's problem positions when Jurgen Klopp paid Southampton £75 million (Dh351m), the highest ever fee for a centre-back, in January. The Brazilian followed in the summer for £65 million, a price that made him the most expensive goalkeeper in history for three weeks, until Chelsea topped it to buy Kepa Arrizabalaga.
Alisson made his debut in the 4-0 win over West Ham United and while he was largely untested by Manuel Pellegrini's team, Van Dijk feels a confident passer has the ability in possession to add another dimension. The newcomer recorded a 93 per cent pass completion rate on Sunday, following on from a 78.9 per cent success rate in Serie A with Roma last season. Loris Karius and Simon Mignolet, Liverpool's two regulars last season, completed 67.2 and 69.5 per cent of passes respectively. Much like his fellow Brazilian, Ederson, at Manchester City, Alisson promises to be a major upgrade who can help Liverpool build from the back better than before.
“He has a lot of qualities on the ball that helps us playing,” Van Dijk said. “We’ve worked on it the whole pre-season [working with the defenders] and we’ll keep practicing. There’s still a lot to do.”
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If Van Dijk’s impact had a positive influence on others, Alisson could emulate him. The Brazilian is settling in well. “Very good,” Van Dijk added. “We speak a lot. He’s very vocal and that helps. It helps me and everyone in the back line. I think his presence is very good as well.”
The other difference in the Liverpool defence came as Van Dijk had a new central-defensive partner, with Joe Gomez looking assured in the absence of Dejan Lovren, Joel Matip and Ragnar Klavan. “I was not really worried. I’ve played a couple of games pre-season with Joe at centre-back and I have a very good relationship with him,” the Dutchman added. “We kept a clean sheet and kept it tight.”
Van Dijk’s unworried approach stretched to the added sense of expectation around Anfield, with Liverpool tipped to be title contenders. “Of course, we want to challenge,” he added. “I do not feel any pressure in that case but we play every game to win, that’s how our mind-set is. The most important thing is that we look at ourselves.”
They are looking better. The summer additions of Alisson, Naby Keita, Fabinho and Xherdan Shaqiri cost £176 million. They have given Liverpool a strength in depth they lacked when injuries bit last season. “We know that right now we have a great squad,” Van Dijk added. “We have a lot of quality players.”
Keita showed plenty of quality on an auspicious bow. His midfield sidekick Gini Wijnaldum explained: “He can provide assists, he can score goals. He showed it in Germany. He can keep the ball and give us - I don't want to say time to rest - time to keep the ball as a team. He can regain the ball, his counter-pressing is good.”
With three additions in the midfield, there were suggestions that Wijnaldum could make way. He was linked with Fenerbahce, where his former PSV Eindhoven manager Phillip Cocu is at the helm. “I don’t know who put it in the media but it wasn’t me,” Wijnaldum said. “I laugh about it. I also read that I asked the club if I could leave. I never had a conversation with the club.”