Westerveld tells TNP: Van Dijk's just like Hyypia
Exclusive: Liverpool's world-record signing reminds Westerveld of former skipper
Liverpool fans will remember the name Sami Hyypia fondly.
The Finnish defender's stint with the Reds from 1999 to 2009 was associated with a slew of honours, including the famous 2005 Champions League victory.
Former goalkeeper Sander Westerveld, who played for Liverpool from 1999 to 2001, believes the Reds have found their new Hyypia in £75 million (S$135m) signing Virgil van Dijk, the world's most expensive defender.
The 26-year-old centre back could make his debut in tomorrow morning's (Singapore time) FA Cup third-round clash with Everton at Anfield.
Not since Hyypia almost a decade ago has Anfield's backline boasted a formidable and commanding presence - something Westerveld, 43, believes his fellow Dutchman will offer.
For the record, Westerveld cost Liverpool £4m (then S$11.2m) from Holland's Vitesse Arnhem - a British record for a goalkeeper then, and Hyypia a mere £2.5m from Willem II, also a Dutch club.
Westerveld told The New Paper in an exclusive interview: "When Sami came to Holland, he was a big tall defender but, in the couple of years there, he learnt how to play with his feet as well.
"He was very comfortable with the ball at his feet and, under pressure, he could play the ball out. That's the same with Virgil van Dijk.
"He is from the Dutch school of technique, playing and passing so, with that aerial presence that Sami had, they are very similar. You can definitely compare them with each other.
"Also their mentality: they are both winners, pure professionals. These are things in his game that central defenders at the moment don't have."
Few are better placed than Westerveld to discuss his former side's defensive shortcomings.
The ex-Holland international, who also played for Everton, won the League Cup, FA Cup and Uefa Cup treble with Liverpool in 2000/01 - along with Hyypia - before swiftly falling victim to Anfield's previously ruthless goalkeeping recruitment policy.
Neither Simon Mignolet nor Loris Karius has inspired a great deal of confidence, but Westerveld sees things somewhat differently.
"I don't think the goalkeeper is the problem this season, it's more the defence," insists Westerveld.
"Hopefully, now with van Dijk, it's that missing link. We were struggling most of all with crosses at corners and I read last week that he won the most aerial battles and clearances in the league this season so that's the one we need."
The English Premier League website lists van Dijk as having made zero key errors in 67 EPL appearances for Southampton, as compared to Dejan Lovren (six), Joel Matip (two) and Ragnar Klavan (one).
Including interceptions, clearances and blocked shots, van Dijk averages 10 per game, compared to Lovren (8.8), Matip (6.8) and Klavan (5.4).
Westerveld added: "We conceded a goal against Burnley through a cross and we're conceding so many crosses, like during the Sevilla game in the Champions League, so that's the weakest link.
"But it's not only the goalkeeper, it's the defenders (too). So, hopefully now, with van Dijk coming in, they can get the ball out of the box - that's most important."
Westerveld also believes that Mignolet is improving.
He said: "Mignolet is getting better every year and making fewer mistakes every year. He's good enough.
"Karius is doing very well, too. I don't know if he came in too early or he wasn't ready, but he was unfortunate making mistakes.
"But he fought back and is playing in the Champions League. I know him from Mainz and he's a very good all-round goalkeeper... If you want to replace Mignolet, Karius is there."
All eyes are likely to be also off the pitch at Anfield tomorrow, with a sidelined Philippe Coutinho's future continuing to cast a cloud amid Barcelona's continued interest in him.
But Westerveld believes that the Brazilian's prospective departure is not as devastating when stacked against the attacking powers of Sadio Mane and Mohamed Salah.
He said: "The situation at the moment, of course, I would really like Coutinho to stay and I'm 100 per cent sure that he will stay until the end of the season.
"But still, eventually he will go and we've shown this season we could play without him as well. Plus the fact that they have already signed Naby Keita from RB Leipzig, who is a similar player. He will be as good as Coutinho.
"It's more important to keep Salah and Mane than Coutinho.
"We're building a good team to challenge for titles. Hopefully, we can win a cup because the league is too far away. Manchester City are just the best team in the world currently."