Netherlands were defensively one of the best teams at the World Cup. Louis van Gaal's side conceded only four goals in seven games at Brazil 2014, with Bruno Martins Indi, Ron Vlaar and Stefan de Vrij all performing admirably in denying the likes of Lionel Messi and Alexis Sánchez from scoring. Since the competition came to a head, the trio have all been linked with big-money moves across Europe.
Martins Indi was the first of the three to move on to pastures new. FC Porto secured his signature, paying Feyenoord a reported €7.7million to bring him to Portugal, presumably as a replacement for Eliaquim Mangala, who has been strongly linked with a move to Chelsea and Manchester City. De Vrij is tipped to follow suit, with Lazio, Southampton and Manchester United supposedly locked in a three-way battle to land the 22-year-old's signature.
De Vrij was the highest rated centre-back (7.90) at the World Cup, with his performances landing him a place in WhoScored's team of the tournament. Alongside the youngster at the back was the imperious Vlaar, who shone in South America. The 29-year-old's organisational skills ensured the inexperienced defensive duo flourished in Van Gaal's three-man defence.
His WhoScored rating (7.75) reflects how impressive he was in Brazil and he has deservedly attracted interest from clubs across Europe. The Van Gaal connection meant links with a move to United came as little shock, though that seems to have cooled in recent weeks. Instead, Tottenham appear to have jumped to the front of the queue in the race to sign 'Concrete Ron' amidst reports they are prepared to offer Michael Dawson and Lewis Holtby plus cash in exchange for the Villa captain.
However, it remains to be seen whether the Villans are willing to entertain offers for their first-choice centre-back. The acquisition of Philippe Senderos and return to fitness of Jores Okore means Villa are well-stocked in the position, but Paul Lambert will be loath to losing one of his prized assets. Tying Vlaar down to a new deal is a priority at Villa Park, with the defender, along with midfield dynamo Fabian Delph, entering the final year of his contract.
The conundrum here is that, if Vlaar refuses to extend his current deal beyond June 2015, Villa run the risk of losing their skipper for free next summer. Of course, his value may have deteriorated by then and interest could drop, but another successful Premier League campaign will have teams scrambling for his signature.
Stats may suggest than Vlaar is a no nonsense centre-back - only Ezequiel Garay (71) made more clearances than the Dutchman (63) at the World Cup - but the fact of the matter is, he is much more than that. Only five players who featured at least five times at centre-back in England's top tier last term averaged more tackles per foul than Vlaar (5.9 tackles for every one foul committed). Comparatively, regular centre-back partner Nathan Baker made 0.8 tackles for every one foul committed, highlighting just how well-timed his attempts to win the ball are.
Furthermore, only Crystal Palace (37.4%) and West Ham (42.6%) averaged less possession than Lambert's side (43.8%) last season, so the defence was often under pressure week in, week out. Vlaar, though, remained calm to deal with the impending threat that his centre-back partners were unable to contend with. 'Concentration' and 'tackling' are two statistically calculated strengths of his and both were, ultimately, crucial to Villa surviving another season in the Premier League.
With Okore also working his way back to full fitness, Villa will be hoping he and Vlaar will partner up in the heart of their defence during the upcoming campaign, so the latter signing on is essential. Much like De Vrij and Martins Indi at the World Cup, Okore can learn from Vlaar's knowledge and reading of the game to become as vital to the Villa defence as the Dutchmam is himself.
Perhaps the one main critique would be his acceleration, with Vlaar far from the quickest centre-back off the mark. In particular, Spurs like to play a high defensive line, so if the back four are caught out by a hopeful punt upfield, he may be unable to make up the ground between the defence and the goalkeeper. However, with Hugo Lloris operating between the sticks - the Frenchman famed for his 'keeper-sweeper' approach - this is unlikely to pose too much of a problem.
Villa have won 30.5% of the 59 league matches Vlaar has started since signing in 2012, compared to just 11.8% of the 17 he missed, so it's of great importance Lambert convinces him to remain in the Midlands. That, though, is easier said than done when considering the teams taking an interest in him. While the World Cup thrust the spotlight on him, Vlaar has always been a top class centre-back, as any Villa fan will attest, and it's a shame that it's taken until now for Europe's big hitters to stand up and take notice.
Villa fans are praying 'Roncrete' commits his future to the club and puts to bed any rumours of a move away that could prove perilous for their club. Now that the transfer window is in full swing, they must be readying themselves for the worst, which could culminate in their captain departing Villa Park.
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All statistics courtesy of WhoScored.com where you can find yet more stats and player ratings.Suggest a correction