They could have been team-mates at Albion, not rivals, but Chris Hughton still regards Virgil van Dijk as a "great role model" for Lewis Dunk.

The Seagulls' boss believes van Dijk has all the qualities to become a Premier League great alongside the likes of John Terry, Sol Campbell, Rio Ferdinand and Ledley King.

England newcomer Dunk (below) and Dutch dominator van Dijk will be on opposite sides when the Seagulls face Liverpool at the Amex on Saturday.

The Argus: Albion were hot on the trail of van Dijk before he made his name first in Scotland with Celtic and now in the Premier League via Southampton as the thoroughbred defender for Jurgen Klopp's table-toppers.

He was a relative unknown for Gronigen in Holland when Albion had two bids rejected in the January transfer window six years ago as they chased promotion from the Championship under Gus Poyet.

Van Dijk and Dunk, with Republic of Ireland partner Shane Duffy (below), have developed into key figures for their respective clubs.

The Argus: Hughton said: "What Van Dijk is to Liverpool, that's what our two are to us.

"We know what level he is but if I'm looking at this level of club and what you would regard as two outstanding centre-halves at our level, ours are as valuable to us as what he is to them.

"He's adapted incredibly well. The two we have will look at the best around where they can learn from, what they can pick up from.

"Lewis has already spoken about John Terry as someone he admires, seen play and tried to get some characteristics from.

"Both of them would do. At the moment (van Dijk) is a great role model. He doesn't miss many games, is good in both boxes and is a top, top all-round player."

The Argus: Van Dijk and Brazilian goalkeeper Alisson (above) have transformed Liverpool from title pretenders into genuine contenders.

Hughton said: "I know it’s different circumstances, but you always look back at the great centre-halves in the Premier League. Your John Terrys, your Ledley Kings, your Sol Campbells. There are numerous ones you can name.

"What Van Dijk has the advantage of is it’s not as if he’s coming into a bad side. He’s walked into a very, very good side that probably just need those couple of additions to raise their level once more.

"What you have with all the best centre-halves, and it's exactly the same with Van Dijk, is they make things look easier.

"I have no doubt that in some games he plays you might not notice it as much. But if you homed in on the job he's done, the positions he is in, the pace that he shows, the distribution that he has, he looks such a good player.

"That's his strength. If you look at all the aspects of what you want in a centre-half: good in the air, comfortable with the ball at his feet, good enough pace, he has all those qualities."

Even so, Hughton thinks it is too early to mention van Dijk in the same breath as Terry and company.

"I don't think you can," he said. "Is he that level of player? Then yes of course, I've no doubt he is when you look at the qualities he's got.

"The other players we've mentioned have done it over a long period. So if you're asking me if he's at their level as a player then the answer is yes.

"But if you're talking about an influence on our game and the history they have, then of course they've done it for a longer time and he hasn't."

Van Dijk will be pivotal for Liverpool against Albion. He is the only recognised centre-back available to Klopp after Dejan Lovren joined an injury list already containing ex-Albion loan target Joe Gomez and Joel Matip in Monday's FA Cup exit at Wolves.

It will not be too much of a concern for Klopp. He adapted with a back three of Lovren, Emre Caen and Georginio Wijnaldum in last season's 5-1 victory at the Amex.

Hughton said: "I don't think it does (weaken them) because of the quality they have got.

"With the game they play, they are very much a possession-based team, great counter-attacking strength and pace, and they would probably see themselves as having the bulk of possession."