Belfast Telegraph

There's plenty more to come from Virgil Van Dijk, warns Klopp as defender prepares to take on old side Southampton

Big impact: Virgil van Dijk has made his mark on and off the field at Liverpool
Big impact: Virgil van Dijk has made his mark on and off the field at Liverpool

By Carl Markham

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 Holland 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 £75m 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 has been here," said Klopp ahead of Van Dijk's return to former club Southampton tonight. "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 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."

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 fighting to stay in the league.

"The games they lost, they were unlucky rather than playing badly.

"I think they are eighth in the form table, the last 15 games at least, so that means they are fighting for the league and that gives you information about the intensity of the game."

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 reflection.

There will not be a public memorial service and there will be no activity inside the stadium on April 15, but the ground will be open, subject to obtaining a free ticket from the club in advance, for anyone wishing to attend.

Meanwhile, Southampton manager Hasenhuttl has warned his side they are not safe from relegation.

Three wins from their last four matches have lifted Saints five points clear of the relegation zone with seven matches to play.

But ahead of tonight's visit of title challengers Liverpool, Hasenhuttl has told his players the job is far from complete.

"We know how tough it is and there are still a lot of points to get, so we have to stay focused," said the Austrian.

"There is still a long way to go and the sooner we get to 40 points the better."

Top scorer Danny Ings misses out against his parent club but Shane Long has shaken off a groin injury and should step in up front.

Hasenhuttl did his coaching badges with Reds boss Klopp and has often been compared with the German due to their shared belief in a pressing style of football.

"It's the first time we will have played against a very good pressing team and the style of football I prefer," he added.

"You can see this team is one step or two steps ahead in their development. They have good balance and they are an organised team with a clear plan and nice to watch.

"It will be a very interesting game for the coaches for both sides and we will have to do a lot of work with coaching the team.

"It is a big challenge - but I like this challenge.

"Do they have any weaknesses? Not so many, to be honest.

"How they play is a perfect example of a physically strong team combined with technical qualities, speed and organisation.

"You can see why it's so difficult to win against this team, and only Manchester City have done it so far.

"But we are not frightened about this game or walking out on the pitch at the stadium because we have the crowd behind us and pushing us.

"Suddenly there is a chance to turn the tables in the game and we have to be prepared and have the chance to take something."

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