Van Dijk, Yoshida's form show Fonte is no longer irreplaceable for Saints

When Jose Fonte first dropped his transfer bombshell on Southampton he would have been under the impression he was irreplaceable.

Having hardly missed a single Premier League game in the last three seasons Fonte has provided the defensive stability around which much of the club's success has been built.

The captain has also helped Southampton cope with their wave of big-name departures by leading from example and helping maintain team spirit in a rapidly changing dressing room.

But as the want-away Euro 2016 winner watched his teammates take a step towards a Wembley final by beating Liverpool 1-0 in Wednesday's EFL Cup semifinal first leg it may have dawned on the Portuguese defender that he is not so dispensable after all.

Not only do Southampton have a ready-made replacement as skipper in the increasingly impressive Virgil van Dijk, but Fonte's enforced absence from manager Claude Puel's line-up has also seen the previously maligned Maya Yoshida emerge from the shadows.

In Van Dijk's case against Liverpool, the Dutchman looked like a man auditioning to fill Fonte's role as on pitch leader, constantly cajoling his colleagues and even pausing to adjust the teammates.

While Fonte has been the one mainstay of Southampton's backline since their return to the top-flight in 2012, there is no doubt Van Dijk is now their most important player.

There were times on Wednesday night when the towering centre-back looked like he was doing an impression of a modern-day Franz Beckenbauer, oozing confidence every time Liverpool put the ball into his vicinity and carrying it out from the back with a swagger the legendary German would have been proud off.

While Fonte's form this season has visibly been affected by his ongoing contract dispute with the club and rumours of interest from Manchester United, Van Dijk has not allowed speculation about his own long-term future to interfere with his performances.

In fact, every time his name is linked with another of the Premier League big-guns it seems to spur the former Celtic star to take his game to a new level.

Southampton already value Van Dijk at £50million and that figure will only increase by the time they inevitably have to sell him in the summer if he continues his improvement through the end of the season

As for Yoshida, he has often been viewed by Southampton supporters and opposition manager alike as a weak-leak in the Saints' armoury.

But the unassuming Japanese international has managed to cut out the glaring individual errors which have all too frequently undermined his career in England and is now regarded as a safe pair of hands alongside Van Dijk.

It was a partnership that Liverpool, even when able to bring the fit-again Philippe Coutinho off the bench as a second-half substitute, could not work out how to get the better of.

The duo will be reunited when Southampton travel to Burnley this weekend, with Puel once again confirming Fonte will not be available for selection at Turf Moor.

The Clarets have a formidable home record since their promotion from the Championship last season -- as Liverpool themselves will testify.

However if Van Dijk and Yoshida can once again bringtheir A-game, Sean Dyche's side could find themselves feeling the same frustration as Daniel Sturridge and company.

And what of Fonte? The king is dead. Long live the king.