Premier League • England

Liverpool lock on to Van Dijk successor, but Real Madrid and Bayern must be beaten to superstar in waiting

Southampton centre-back Armel Bella-Kotchap

Southampton centre-back Armel Bella-Kotchap

Jurgen Klopp has identified Southampton’s Armel Bella-Kotchap as his eventual Virgil van Dijk successor, and his Liverpool arrival could spell trouble for a current centre-half, per a report.

Van Dijk has been everything Liverpool fans could’ve hoped for and more. He became the world’s most expensive defender at the time of his arrival when Liverpool paid Southampton £75m in 2018.

The Dutch ace was instrumental in Liverpool’s Champions League and Premier League successes in 2019 and 2020 respectively and few would argue he wasn’t worth every penny.

However, at 31, Van Dijk finally appears to be showing tentative signs of slowing down.

His displays so far this season have dipped below his usual elite standards. Van Dijk admitted he needs to improve in midweek, though has railed against the over-the-top criticism levied his way by certain ex-footballers in the media.

Regardless, the time will eventually come when Liverpool must look for a successor. According to a report in the Spanish press, Jurgen Klopp has already locked on to the perfect candidate.

They state Southampton’s Armel Bella-Kotchap has caught Klopp’s eye. The 20-year-old joined the Saints from German side Bochum in the summer.

Bella-Kotchap Southampton’s latest masterstroke

A modest £8.6m transfer fee was paid, though that already looks like yet another Southampton masterstroke.

The 20-year-old is earning rave reviews for his early displays and was a notable stand-out in the narrow 1-0 defeat to Man Utd on August 27.

His national team manager, Hansi Flick, has taken note and gave Bella-Kotchap his first senior call-up to the Germany squad earlier this week. He may yet find himself involved at the Qatar World Cup later this year.

Klopp is another admirer and the Spanish report claims he views Bella-Kotchap as the ‘starting point’ of his defence when Van Dijk’s time is up.

It’s also suggested the under-par performances put in by Joe Gomez this season could accelerate a Liverpool move.

The inference there is if Bella-Kotchap is signed in the ‘short-term’ in one of the next two windows for example, Gomez would be the fall guy.

However, the Reds won’t have a move all to themselves if they do decide to act. Bayern Munich and Real Madrid have both been suitably impressed by Bella-Kotchap too.

Bayern in particular have monitored the rising star for a longer period given he previously played in Germany. It’s suggested the Bavarians may view him as the long-term partner for Matthijs De Ligt.

Liverpool wise to pounce early?

Most Liverpool fans would rather see the midfield addressed before any other position.

Jude Bellingham remains a target for the summer of 2023, while reports from Brazil suggested their midfield plans could be brought forward in the form of a different signing entirely.

However, Liverpool do often sign players a window or two before they’re truly needed.

That ensures the new arrival has time to bed in before they become an integral part of the squad.

Luis Diaz was signed six months before Sadio Mane departed, for example. Ibrahima Konate arrived at a time when Joel Matip and Van Dijk were fit and firing. However, his exploits in the cup competitions last season allowed the Reds to compete on four fronts.

A move for Bella-Kotchap would make sense in that regard. However, the claim Joe Gomez could be forced out as a result is somewhat surprising.

Gomez made the headlines for all the wrong reasons when putting in a truly dismal display against Napoli last week.

However, he produced his best performance in recent memory just four days prior against Everton. What’s more, he only signed a new contract running until 2027 in July.

Still only 25, it would make little sense for Gomez to be axed given Matip and Van Dijk are both the wrong side of 30.