Leicester manager Claude Puel has called Liverpool star Virgil van Dijk 'the best defender in the world' and revealed how he helped the Dutchman realise his talent during his Southampton days.
Puel's Leicester take on title-chasing Liverpool at Anfield on Wednesday night, in a match that will reunite van Dijk with his former manager at Southampton, Puel.
The Dutch defender, who made a move from the Saints to Liverpool in last year's winter transfer window for a fee of £75m, has been one of the standout performers of this season.
Speaking in his pre-match press conference, Puel detailed how the defender improved under him but took on 'another dimension' after his big-money transfer.
The Frenchman said (as quoted by the Liverpool Echo): "He didn't have a lot of chances with Southampton but step by step he improves at set pieces.
"After, we know with all the quality and different attributes he can have – he is a fantastic player. My feeling about him doesn't change with Liverpool. He took another dimension.
"When I came in at Southampton, he was of course a good player but he was in his comfort. He liked to defend deep on the pitch without covering his full-back and was taking some risks to dribble.
"At the beginning it was a little difficult to discuss with him and to change and evaluate. I think step by step he took the intensity and feeling to defend with sometimes 50 metres behind him.
"Or to defend one against one without risk. I think it was important to make good cover and to move from the box and not just to remain in place. He became a modern defender in this time and performed game after game.
"Despite his injuries with Southampton other teams looked at his quality and I think it was a good development. He listened at the end and is a fantastic player and competitor.
"He is strong, powerful, fast, technical, he can play under pressure without a problem. It is fantastic. I said at the time at Southampton, for me, he was the best defender in the world. But he confirmed it I think with Liverpool."
The Foxes game tonight is an important one for van Dijk's Liverpool, as they have the opportunity to open up a seven-point lead over last year's champions Manchester City.
However the fitness of Virgil van Dijk has been in question after the defender picked up an illness during the Reds' warm-weather training trip to Dubai.