Football

Southampton accuse Liverpool of illegal approach for van Dijk

Dutch defender van Dijk reportedly keen on joining Liverpool but Southampton determined to block move

Liverpool appear to have edged ahead in the race for in-demand Southampton defender Virgil van Dijk, who has indicated he prefers a move to Anfield.

Press Association Sport understands the strapping centre back has chosen Juergen Klopp's Liverpool ahead of interest from Premier League champions Chelsea and Manchester City.

However, a deal is far from complete as the Reds have yet to make a bid for the Holland international, who signed a six-year deal with Southampton last year.

If talks go ahead, the Saints are expected to demand over £50 million (S$89m), which will be a world-record fee for a defender.

RECORD TRANSFER

That would smash Liverpool's record £35m transfer for striker Andy Carroll in 2011.

But the Saints are ready to reject an official offer, having been irritated by what they saw as an attempt to unsettle their player.

Yesterday, Southampton asked the Premier League to investigate an alleged illegal approach from Liverpool for van Dijk.

Liverpool may now face an even tougher battle to secure the 25-year-old, who has become one of the most sought-after defenders in the league since moving to the south coast from Celtic less than two years ago.

Last month, Southampton chairman Ralph Krueger told PA Sport that the club could turn down even a £60-million bid for the defender.

"Can we? Yes," Krueger said.

"We do not need to sell any player for the first time since I've been here."

The Reds have refused to comment on the speculation and their interest in van Dijk, but it is understood he is Klopp's primary transfer target this summer and the club are willing to offer a lucrative financial package, potentially making him their highest-paid player.

Klopp is understood to want the 1.93m-tall centre back to bring some authority and presence to his backline - their Achilles' heel last season.

Van Dijk was said to have impressed Klopp by stopping Liverpool's forwards in a calm and composed way during a 0-0 draw at St Mary's last November.

Two months later, the former FC Groningen star put in an encore performance in the League Cup semi-final, first-leg clash, keeping Daniel Sturridge quiet to ensure a 1-0 victory for the Saints.

Physically strong and comfortable on the ball, van Dijk has also been a threat from set-pieces.

OVERTURES

The chance to work with Klopp is believed to have swung his decision, despite similar overtures from Pep Guardiola and Antonio Conte.

Van Dijk missed the second half of last season with an ankle ligament injury but has impressed since his move to England from Celtic in September 2015 for £11.5m.

Besides him, the Reds are also trying to secure AS Roma's pacy winger Mohamed Salah, with talks reaching a standstill.

A fee, likely to be about £35m, has yet to be agreed and Liverpool are considering Lazio's Keita Balde as an alternative should the Salah deal fall through. - PA SPORT

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