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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?

After VAR drama, does new handball law need to change?

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The fallout from Manchester City and Tottenham’s wild 2-2 draw at the Etihad Stadium continues, as late VAR drama stole the show with Gabriel Jesus‘ strike ruled out deep into second half stoppage time.

[ MORE: VAR drama dominates

Jesus’ goal in stoppage time was ruled out for a handball on Aymeric Laporte after being checked by VAR, as the new laws brought in by IFAB this summer were interpreted correctly. The exact same thing happened as Wolves had a goal chalked out against Leicester during the opening weekend of the season.

But do those new laws need to be tweaked?

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights

The new rules state that if there’s a handball in the box from an attacking player which either a) leads to the ball going into the net or b) leads directly to a goal being scored, then it will be called a handball.

However, the same law states that if a defending player handles in the box then it is down to the referees discretion to decide whether or not it was a deliberate handball.

As you’d expected, Man City midfielder Ilkay Gunodgan has strong feelings on this law change, and our broadcast crew discuss whether or not this law needs to be changed in the video above.

The overall feeling is that the law needs to tweaking to state that handballs in the box by either attacking or defending players are treated the same and called a handball.

Watch Live: Sheffield United v. Crystal Palace

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Sheffield United host Crystal Palace at Bramall Lane on Sunrday (Watch live, 9 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com) as the Blades fans will enjoy their first home game back in the Premier League.

WATCH LIVE ONLINE

Chris Wilder, the lifelong United fan who is now their manager, will be emotional and fans of the Yorkshire club will create a heated atmosphere for opponents to visit this season.

In team news Sheffield United are unchanged from the team which drew at Bournemouth last week, with club captain Billy Sharp on the bench.

Crystal Palace bring in star man Wilfried Zaha who starts up top


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Zidane says Bale will stay at Real Madrid

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Gareth Bale is staying at Real Madrid.

The Welshman was not wanted by manager Zinedine Zidane, who stated that publicly on many occasions over the summer.

But Bale started and grabbed an assist as 10-man Real beat Celta Vigo 3-1 in their La Liga opener on Saturday and it seems like Zidane is ready to brush all of this Bale talk under the carpet.

“He’s going to stay and we all have to think of that as a positive thing,” Zidane said. “The injury to Eden Hazard was bad luck for us but it didn’t change the plans we had for Bale in this game. Gareth and everyone else here is going to show this shirt the respect it deserves.”

After his move to China broke down at the last minute amid conflicting reports blaming Bale and the club for the collapse of the deal, his future at Real has seemed pretty much dead in the water.

Adding in a serious injury to Marco Asensio and Eden Hazard picking up a knock, and all of a sudden Bale is needed again. But for how long?

He was linked with a loan move to Bayern Munich but Philippe Coutinho moved to Bavaria instead, and Bale wasn’t chased by Premier League clubs during the summer due to his huge wage demands. With the transfer window across many European countries closing at the end of this month, he has run out of options to leave a club where the hierarchy and fans don’t want him.

Bale, 30, is now stuck at Real and he has another three years left on his contract. It will be interesting to see how this plays out for the man who has won four Champions League trophies at Real, yet has become the main villain at the Santiago Bernabeu as fans lambast him for playing golf and not learning to speak Spanish fluently during his six years in Spain.

Ibrahimovic scores twice, 10-man Galaxy ties Sounders 2-2

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Carson, Calif. (AP) Zlatan Ibrahimovic scored in each half and the LA Galaxy tied the Seattle Sounders 2-2 on Saturday night despite playing nearly the entire match down a man.

The Galaxy’s Daniel Steres was sent off in the sixth minute for the denial of obvious goal opportunity.

Ibrahimovic tied it at 1 for the Galaxy (13-11-2) with a header in the 45th minute. In the 65th minute, he was taken down by Kim Kee-hee while going for a header in the area and converted the penalty, making it 2-1 with his 20th goal of the season.

LA defender Jorgen Skjelvik scored an own goal in the 82nd minute when he inadvertently deflected goalkeeper David Bingham’s attempted clearance into the Galaxy net.

Raul Ruidiaz opened the scoring in the 42nd minute for the Sounders (11-8-7). Harry Shipp hustled to round up a loose ball and fed it to an open Ruidiaz, who slotted it home.