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Van Dijk can become “one of top six defenders in world”

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Virgil Van Dijk is probably the best central defender in the Premier League right now.

Van Dijk, 25, has excelled at the heart of Southampton’s defense this season as their reigning player of the year has captained them in the Europa League and been a key part of a defense which has conceded just 12 goals in 13 Premier League games thus far, keeping five clean sheets to open up the season.

[ MORE: Saints move on from Koeman ]

With rumors of both Everton and Liverpool lining up $55 million moves for VVD in January, his manager at Southampton, Claude Puel, has been talking about his star defender ahead of Saints’ EFL Cup quarterfinal clash at Arsenal on Wednesday.

He also called any talk linking Van Dijk with a move away from St Mary’s as “speculation” and believes he should stay where he is.

“Van Dijk is a great player and has a contract,” Puel said. “It is important all of the good players stay with us and continue their work and improve with Southampton. He has the ability to become one of the five or six best defenders in the world. He has the capacity, it is difficult to see something better on him. It is important he continues with stability, Southampton is a good club for him.”

Why is Van Dijk so good?

Firstly, his composure on the ball is astonishing for a center back. He never looks uneasy and is able to surge out of defense a la John Stones with minimum fuss, plus his pace and power mean he wins most of his tackles and aerial duels.

On the defensive side of the game he has improved drastically over the past 12 months since joining Southampton from Celtic for $16 million. He gets caught out of position less, reads the game better and his range of passing has improved as he often sprays long balls out wide to get attacks started.

Quite simply, it’s hard to see where VVD has a weakness.

In Southampton’s Europa League run he has had some great goalscoring chances but has uncharacteristically missed those away at Sparta Prague, Inter Milan and Hapeol Be’er Sheeva. The fact that the only real area Van Dijk, a center back, can improve on is scoring goals says it all. 

When you look around the Premier League, the only other center backs which can come close to him are Jan Vertonghen and Toby Alderweireld at Tottenham and Arsenal’s Laurent Koscielny. Apart from that, I don’t see many defenders better than Van Dijk.

With Southampton likely bracing themselves for big bids in January and next summer, Van Dijk’s value has to be north of $55 million. He also just signed a new long-term contract at Saints at the end of last season and it appears he’s in it for the long haul. That said, if a team comes in with a ridiculous offer for him in the next two transfer windows, can Saints really turn it down?

Watch Live: West Brom v. Liverpool

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West Bromwich Albion host Liverpool on Saturday at the Hawthorns (Watch live, 7:30 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com) as the Premier League’s bottom team aim to pull off another shock win to keep their faint survival hopes alive.

WATCH LIVE ONLINE

The Baggies won 1-0 at Manchester United last time to delay their impending relegation as well as hand Manchester City the title and interim boss Darren Moore will want to grab another big win as the Baggies aim to try and pull off the greatest of escapes. Anything other than a win could see West Brom relegated this weekend.

As for Liverpool, Jurgen Klopp‘s men have cemented their spot in the top four and will have one eye on a big week of European action.

In team news West Brom have Jonny Evans back fit and on the bench but are unchanged from the win at Man United, while Liverpool rest several players ahead of their UEFA Champions League semifinal first leg against Roma.

Andrew Robertson, Roberto Firmino, Alexander-Arnold and Oxlade-Chamberlain are all on the bench with Joe Gomez returning to the starting lineup.

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VIDEO: Sporting KC’s Medranda scores wonder goal in win over Vancouver

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Sporting KC showed again on Friday night why they’re the rightful leaders at the top of the Western Conference, pulling four points ahead of the LA Galaxy and the Vancouver Whitecaps with a dominating 6-0 win over the Whitecaps at home.

Scottish forward Johnny Russell bagged a hat-trick in the game, all by the 48th minute, but the highlight of the night came off the foot of 24-year-old Jimmy Medranda. The Colombian scored an absolute worldie from a ridiculous angle, taking the space given to him outside the top-left corner of the box and sailing it over the head of Vancouver goalkeeper Stefan Marinovic and into the back of the net.

It was, of course, massively beneficial to Sporting KC that Vancouver went two men down in the 40th minute after a huge skirmish that saw Yordy Reyna and Efrain Juarez both sent off. Reyna earned his marching orders for throwing Russell to the ground, while Juarez reportedly used unacceptable language.

Still, KC was already up 3-0 when the incident occurred, and credit must go to teams that take advantage of what has been handed to them. Sporting KC certainly did that as Russell becomes the first Scotsman to score an MLS hat-trick since Colorado’s John Spencer in 2001, and Medranda’s wonder goal sealed the deal past the half-hour mark.

Jurgen Klopp already wants a piece of Man City next season

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Manchester City may have run away with the Premier League title this year, but Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp can’t wait for a clean slate to try and challenge City’s title defense next season.

The Reds are into the Champions League semifinals and also looking to finish the Premier League season strong in a battle for positioning in the top four, but when asked about next year, Klopp was giddy.

“Of course I don’t fear the challenge,” Klopp said in his prematch press conference ahead of Liverpool’s Premier League visit to West Brom on Saturday morning.

The German made it clear he wants a piece of Manchester City next season. “This year, if City plays a normal season – which they didn’t do – then it would have been really close until the end because we are now all close together.”

“United is four points ahead [of Liverpool], Tottenham is two points behind. It’s a real fight for these positions. All big six pretty much delivered this year but City delivered the best. We will see. It’s difficult to deal with success as it is difficult to deal with other things in football but I’m pretty sure they will be strong again.”

Liverpool is one of only two teams to beat City in league play this year, with Manchester United being the other. Klopp and company torched the City back line in a wild 4-3 victory that ended City’s 22-match unbeaten run. Ultimately, though, Klopp knows they have to look at the entire season as a whole to best the defending champs next year, not just their matches against each other.

“It’s not important how good City will be, it’s about how we can get all the other points, plus the points we got so far again,” he said. “That’s the job to do. That is why it is always possible that it is closer. But are they able to dominate? They don’t have a limit to spending and all that stuff so I don’t know.”

VIDEO: Goalkeeper sends Memphis Depay flying with skillful touch

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Former Manchester United attacker Memphis Depay has one of the brightest spots for Lyon this season that sees them battling with Monaco and Marseille for 2nd place behind a dominant PSG. He has scored 15 goals and assisted 11 others this Ligue 1 campaign, adding to his tally just four minutes into Friday’s 5-2 win over Dijon, the sixth win in a row for the club that pulled them within a point of Monaco.

However, there was a moment to forget for Depay in the victory as well.

With the score still at 1-1 in the 19th minute, Depay was sent high up the pitch to press Dijon goalkeeper Baptiste Reynet, owner of the leakiest net of the Ligue 1 season. Nevertheless, sometimes the underdog prevails, and that’s what happened as Depay flung himself at the ball to put Reynet under pressure.

One silky touch by the netminder was all it took for Depay to end up on his backside.

The 24-year-old Dutch winger has had a fantastic season and one that could potentially propel him back to the biggest stage and a bigger paycheck, but for now, we can all poke fun at his misery in the moment.