Manchester City and Liverpool are most people’s favourite for the Premier League title, and the latter will be confident in their chances of wrestling it away from the current champions.
With the goalkeeper position strengthened — the area of the squad identified by many as Liverpool’s weakest — thanks to the arrival of Alisson from Roma, manager Jurgen Klopp now looks to have the all the tools necessary to launch a real assault on the title.
As well as the Brazilian shot-stopper, Klopp also recently brought in central defender Virgil van Dijk, who has drastically helped to improve what was once a very fragile Liverpool defence.
Van Dijk joined the Merseyside club back in January, the same time as Aymeric Laporte’s transfer to Manchester City, and both centre-backs are likely to play huge roles in their respective teams for the season.
With that in mind, how do the two compare?
Virgil van Dijk
Van Dijk has been nothing short of a revelation since joining Liverpool from Southampton for a world-record fee for a defender, and his most recent display in his side’s 2-1 win over Tottenham at Wembley on Saturday was a perfect example of why.
The former Southampton captain put in another commanding performance where he looked calm on the ball and unbeatable in the air.
Alongside the promising Joe Gomez, he was able to neutralise the threat of possibly the most dangerous No.9 in the country, Harry Kane, limiting the Tottenham skipper on the day to nothing but half chances.
Whether it is from defending set pieces or playing out of defence, van Dijk’s presence on the pitch can truly be felt.
And, if Liverpool are to finally win their first English title since the Premier League’s inception, then there is no doubt the Netherlands international would have played a massive part in that success.
TT Grade: A+
Pep Guardiola finally got his man when Manchester City activated the £57m release clause in Laporte’s Athletic Bilbao contract on their way to the 2017/18 Premier League title (via BBC Sport).
The Frenchman had been one of Guardiola’s first targets upon his arrival at the Etihad back in 2016 (via Manchester Evening News), but could not prize him away from Spain during that transfer window.
Ultimately, the Manchester City boss was made to wait, but it was a wait well worth it in the end.
With Nicolas Otamendi recapturing the form he showed at Valencia and captain Vincent Kompany’s fitness having improved significantly, the Citizens already looked well equipped in central defence. In John Stones, Guardiola also had a very young and promising central defender that assimilates with his way of football.
Neither of the trio, however, are left footed, in contrast to Laporte. With the addition of the 24-year-old, Guardiola had captured a very high-calibre centre-back able to slot in comfortably to the left side of central defence.
To most supporters, such small details are likely to be of any real significance. For Guardiola, though, it is something of much importance and something he has often talked about when speaking about his central defensive options and Laporte specifically (via Manchester City official club website and Balls).
TT Grade: A-
The signing of Laporte has been a significant one for Manchester City and Guardiola. The ex-Athletic Bilbao player is playing his part now and will undoubtedly be at the heart of the Citizens’ defence, alongside Stones, for years to come.
The fact that he is also left footed makes him quite the central defensive jewel with World Cup winner Samuel Umtiti and AC Milan’s Alessio Romagnoli possibly the only other fairly young and talented left-footed centre-halves in the game right now.
In comparison to van Dijk, on the other hand, Laporte’s impact has not been as great. Van Dijk has single-handedly transformed Liverpool’s defence and taken the team, as a whole, to another level.
No doubt the two are on the road to becoming world-class defenders — if not already — but van Dijk’s influence on his team could be the difference between Liverpool winning the Premier League title or finishing in second place.