Virgil van Dijk’s performances for Liverpool put him on par with the finest centre-backs in Premier League history, according to Brighton boss Chris Hughton.
But Hughton believes the Netherlands international must sustain his form over a longer period of time to cement a place among the division’s all-time greats.
Van Dijk – a one-time transfer target for Albion – has helped transform Jurgen Klopp’s Reds into genuine title contenders following a £75 million move from Southampton last January.
The 27-year-old visits the Amex Stadium on Saturday with the table-topping Merseyside club bidding to increase their four-point lead over champions Manchester City.
Asked if Van Dijk deserves to be talked about in the same breath as the likes of John Terry, Sol Campbell and Rio Ferdinand, Hughton replied: “Is he that level of player? Yes of course, I’ve no doubt he is when you look at the qualities he’s got.
“The other players we’ve mentioned have done it over a long period.
“If you’re asking me if he’s at their level as a player, then the answer is yes.
“But if you’re talking about an influence on our game and the history they have, then of course they’ve done it for a longer time and he hasn’t.”
Brighton – then managed by Gus Poyet – attempted to sign Van Dijk from Dutch club Groningen in January 2013, seeing two bids rejected.
The player joined Celtic in the summer of that year and, after moving on to St Mary’s for a reported £13million in September 2015, increased his value significantly before arriving at Anfield.
“What you have with all the best centre-halves, and it’s exactly the same with Van Dijk, is they make things look easier,” added Hughton.
“If you homed in on the job he’s done, the positions he is in, the pace that he shows, the distribution that he has, he looks such a good player.
“If you look at all the aspects of what you want in a centre-half: good in the air, comfortable with the ball at his feet, good enough pace, he has all those qualities.”
Albion’s success in establishing themselves in the top flight owes a lot to their own defensive solidity, built on the reliable centre-back partnership of Lewis Dunk and Shane Duffy.
Seagulls vice-captain Dunk became an England international in November, while Republic of Ireland defender Duffy has also regularly attracted praise.
Hughton says the “outstanding” pair are vital members of his team and feels they can improve further by watching Van Dijk.
“What Van Dijk is to Liverpool, that’s what our two are to us,” said Hughton.
“We know what level he is but if I’m looking at what you would regard as two outstanding centre-halves at our level, ours are as valuable to us as what he is to them.
“The two we have will look at the best around where they can learn from, what they can pick up from.
“At the moment, he (Van Dijk) is a great role model. He doesn’t miss many games, is good in both boxes and is a top, top all-round player.”
Despite being clear at the top of the table, Liverpool were beaten 2-1 by second-placed City in their previous league fixture, before crashing out of the FA Cup at Wolves on Monday.
Asked if the Reds can end their 19-year wait for a top-flight title, Hughton said they were favourites but “wouldn’t put money on it”.
“I think they are favourites simply because of the points difference, and I think they’ve been outstanding,” he said.
“But I couldn’t tell you who will win it. And certainly, I wouldn’t put money on it.”
Provided by Press Association Sport
Winning the PFA Premier League Player of the Month award is no easy feat, with numerous players pushing to secure the award every month during the league season.
The award is given to the best performing player in the month and it has grown in popularity in recent years, amongst fans and the players themselves.
The first player to ever win the award was Jurgen Klinsmann of Tottenham Hotspur back in August 1994 and since then, several players have gone on to win the award on multiple occasions.
Below, we’ve taken a look at the top five players with the most Player of the Month awards.
1. HARRY KANE – 6
The Spurs forward’s first Player of the Month award came in January 2015 and since then, he has already won five more.
His prolific goal scoring form in recent seasons has seen him shoot up the pile of winners and claim the top spot.
With the Englishman still seemingly having plenty of more years to play in the Premier League, he is expected to continue increasing this record. His most recent Player of the Month award came in December 2017.
2. STEVEN GERRARD – 6
The Liverpool legend is tied with Kane at the top of the pile, with his first award coming in March 2001.
Although Gerrard has never won the Premier League title, his brilliant midfield performances during his playing career saw him rewarded with this award on multiple occasions.
His last award came in March 2014, where he and team-mate Luis Suarez were both announced as joint winners.
3. SERGIO AGUERO – 5
The Manchester City striker has won the Player of the Month award five times since he joined the club in the summer of 2011.
Aguero has 153 Premier League goals and is arguably one of the greatest forwards that the top flight has ever seen.
His last-minute heroics to win City the title in 2012 is the highlight of his Premier League career, but he can also be proud of his five monthly awards, which, could still rise before he retires.
He first won the award in October 2013 and his most recent award was in January 2018.
4. ROBIN VAN PERSIE – 5
The Netherlanda international won two of the awards in one season as he fired Manchester United to the Premier League title in 2012/13.
5. WAYNE ROONEY – 5
Manchester United’s all-time top scorer also won five Player of the Month awards during his hugely successful Premier League career.
Rooney spearheaded the glory days of the club and his first monthly award came in February 2005.
His last Player of the Month award came in January 2010 and since, he has played for Everton and MLS side DC United.
Here, Press Association Sport looks at how the Argentinian has fared against the Red Devils during his time as a manager in England.
Pochettino has a mixed record against United in 13 games as Southampton and Tottenham boss, winning four, losing six and drawing three. He did not beat United at all while at Southampton, although there was only one defeat in three games with Saints – that coming in just his second game in charge in January 2013. Wayne Rooney scored twice as Sir Alex Ferguson’s then Premier League leaders came from behind to win 2-1.
At Spurs, Pochettino has faced United 10 times, collecting a win earlier this season and in each of the previous three campaigns. That is offset by five defeats while there has also been one draw.
NEVER ACHIEVED A DOUBLE
Sunday’s game will give Pochettino a chance to achieve a first double over United, having triumphed 3-0 at Old Trafford in August. That success was an early statement of Tottenham’s power this season while it also increased the pressure on United boss Jose Mourinho, whose eventual sacking in December led to speculation linking Pochettino with the job.
United will go into the game with momentum after winning five in succession under caretaker boss Ole Gunnar Solskjaer but they remain 10 points behind third-placed Spurs.
Prior to this season’s win at Old Trafford, all of Pochettino’s previous successes against United had come at home, either White Hart Lane or Wembley. In fact, putting aside last season’s FA Cup semi-final at a neutral Wembley, United have never won away against a Pochettino Spurs side.
That bodes well for them this weekend, although Pochettino has suffered at least one defeat to United in all but one of his five full seasons in England. The exception was 2013-14, when Southampton and United drew 1-1 twice.
The August success at Old Trafford probably ranks as Pochettino’s best against United, a result that was secured with three goals in the second half. Harry Kane got the first of them before Lucas Moura grabbed two.
Pochettino enjoyed another impressive 3-0 victory over United in April 2016 as Spurs tried to chase Leicester down in the title race. Their goals came from Dele Alli, Toby Alderweireld and Erik Lamela in a six-minute blitz midway through the second half.
The boot was on the other foot in March 2015 as Spurs were roundly beaten 3-0 at Old Trafford. Marouane Fellaini, Michael Carrick and Rooney all scored in the opening 34 minutes as Pochettino’s side were outclassed and United enjoyed one of their best wins under Louis Van Gaal.
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