Virgil van Dijk says Liverpool’s ability to stay calm under pressure is the key to their astonishing Premier League title charge after they came from behind to beat West Ham 3-2.
Jurgen Klopp’s side are 22 points ahead of second-placed Manchester City and need just four more wins to guarantee to win their first top-flight title for 30 years.
Despite the huge points gap, Liverpool have had to overcome some threats to their season-long unbeaten record in recent weeks.
They were 2-1 down to the Hammers on Monday with 22 minutes to go while they beat Norwich with a solitary 78th-minute goal earlier this month.
Defender Van Dijk praised the mental strength of his teammates, who have won 26 and drawn just one of their 27 Premier League matches.
“Not being nervous, that is the main thing,” he said. “Keep going and keep playing and keep pressing. There will be moments when the opponent is going to have problems if we keep doing the same thing.
“They (West Ham) were a little bit better in the second half than the beginning, they played quite well but I think not being nervous is the main thing.”
West Ham’s opening goal by Issa Diop was the first conceded at Anfield in 11 hours and 27 minutes.
“We all want the clean sheet, we all want eight goals, that is what every footballer wants but in reality sometimes you have difficult nights,” said the Dutch international.
“We had a difficult night but we kept our cool.”
Since returning from their mid-season break, Klopp’s side appear to have lacked some of their previous fluency, labouring to beat Norwich and West Ham and losing to Atletico Madrid in the first leg of their Champions League last-16 tie in Spain.
But Van Dijk said the time off had not dulled their fire.
“I think we should take advantage of the break we had,” he added. “Everyone had their time off, we all enjoyed it and we are all ready for the second part of the season.”
Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp believes Virgil van Dijk would have been a worthy winner of the Ballon d’Or but understands why Lionel Messi lifted it for a sixth time.
The Dutch captain came second to the Argentina forward despite playing a huge role as Liverpool won the Champions League last season, overcoming Messi’s Barcelona in the semi-final.
“I see it slightly different and a lot of people see it slightly different but that’s absolutely no problem,” said Klopp.
“Lionel Messi, I’ve said probably 500,000 times in my life already, is probably the best player I saw in my lifetime.
“But I cannot remember a more impressive season from a defender ever. Honestly. So it would have been right if Virg won it. I heard it was pretty close.”
On Wednesday, runaway Premier League leaders Liverpool host Everton in the 234th Merseyside derby, with the relegation-threatened Toffees looking to break a winless streak on the ground dating back to 1999.
Marco Silva’s position is under huge threat but while Klopp had sympathy for his counterpart he said he did not feel sorry for the Portuguese.
“Of course I have sympathy because I know how difficult the life of a manager can be,” he told his pre-match press conference on Tuesday.
“But the last thing Marco needs now is that I feel sorry for him — I don’t. But I am really on his side because I know about the job.”
A first-half brace from Virgil van Dijk lifted Liverpool 11 points clear at the top of the Premier League in a 2-1 win over Brighton that was filled with drama after the sending off of home goalkeeper Alisson.
The Brazilian was dismissed on 76 minutes as he raced out of his area to handle an attempted chip by Brighton substitute Leandro Trossard.
Spanish replacement Adrian came on but his first act was to pick the ball out of the net as Lewis Dunk rolled the free-kick past the Liverpool wall and an unprepared goalkeeper.
The loss in midweek of influential midfielder Fabinho had taken the gloss off a successful period for Jurgen Klopp’s side, with an ankle injury ruling the Brazilian out for six weeks.
But the mood around Anfield before kick-off was certainly lifted when news came through from the north-east that their rivals Manchester City had unexpectedly dropped two points at Newcastle.
It did not take long for that mood to improve still further as Liverpool set about their task of attempting to move 11 points clear of Pep Guardiola’s side, the defending champions and the team still seen as their greatest challengers.
It took 18 minutes for Klopp’s men to take a deserved lead after Pascal Gross fouled Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain outside the Brighton area.
Trent Alexander-Arnold floated in the perfect free-kick and van Dijk rose powerfully above Adam Webster to head in his second goal of the season and first since the opening day of the season.
It did not take as long for van Dijk to wait for his third of the season — six minutes to be precise — as Brighton failed to learn from conceding the opener and allowed the same combination to double the lead.
This time it was from a left-wing corner as Alexander-Arnold delivered a perfect centre and the Dutch defender rose magnificently to beat Dunk and power a bullet header past a helpless Mat Ryan.
In between, van Dijk might have found the back of the net again, only this time his own, as he sliced a Davy Propper cross that flew inches wide of Liverpool’s far post.
But that was a rare moment of respite for Brighton, whose poor set-piece defending had left them facing a near-impossible task against a Liverpool side unbeaten in home league games since Crystal Palace beat them in April 2017, 951 days ago.
Ryan had already made three key saves to keep his side in contention, two from Roberto Firmino and another from Sadio Mane.
But, as the half progressed, there were moments of concern for a Liverpool side without a clean sheet in 11 games.
Jordan Henderson filled the absent Fabinho’s holding midfield position although he could not prevent the visitors from creating a couple of glorious openings late in the half as Propper was denied by Alisson and Dunk missed the target, unmarked, from 12 yards.
There were similar glimmers of hope for the visitors early in the second half, Dunk glancing a header wide and Aaron Connolly shooting straight at Alisson before Liverpool began to threaten on the counter-attack.
In the late drama that followed Alisson’s dismissal, Brighton pressed for an equaliser.
Adrian saved well from Aaron Mooy but almost fumbled a header from Gross into his own goal.
Liverpool defender Virgil van Dijk has dismissed the five-point lead they hold over title rivals Manchester City as irrelevant so early in the season.
Jurgen Klopp’s side briefly extended their advantage to eight points after beating Sheffield United 1-0 in the early kick-off on Saturday but City beat Everton to reduce the gap.
Even though Liverpool have a 100 percent record from their opening seven matches, Van Dijk stressed nobody inside the dressing room was giving it a second thought.
The Reds know from recent experience that the situation can change quickly. They had a seven-point lead over City before the two met at the Etihad Stadium on January 3, only to lose as Pep Guardiola’s side began their fightback.
“It’s far too early. We’re almost in October and the busy period will come,” said the Netherlands captain after Liverpool registered their 16th successive Premier League victory.
“There are still so many games left and the only thing we focus on is the game ahead of us. We don’t want to look at the others because there’s no point doing that.
“Everyone realises that as well because last season we saw how it turned quickly.”
Victory at Bramall Lane also extended the club record for successive away league wins to eight and they have not lost away from Anfield in the league since that defeat at the Etihad nine months ago.
“It’s the media who love statistics,” said Van Dijk. “The reality is we have nothing at the moment. We want to continue to do well and there’s still plenty of room for improvement.”
Saturday’s match-winner Georginio Wijnaldum said Liverpool’s scratchy win at Sheffield United was an example of the progress being made under Klopp.
Last season, when they missed out on a first top-flight title since 1990 by a single point, Liverpool drew seven matches, which included games against West Ham, Leicester and Everton.
“You see we make progression with what we did,” said Wijnaldum. “Back in previous years we had to play good to win the games. Now we play bad and still win games.”
Virgil Van Dijk threatens to eclipse fellow European stars Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi to lift FIFA’s The Best Player award on Monday, to set himself up as favourite for this year’s Ballon d’Or.
Van Dijk, Ronaldo and Messi are the three men’s finalists for The Best Player award, with the winner to be announced on Monday in a star-studded ceremony in Milan’s famous opera house La Scala.
The towering Dutch defender helped Liverpool to the Champions League trophy last season and is well-positioned having already won the UEFA player of the year award.
Since The Best award was created in 2016, the winner has gone on to also lift the coveted Ballon d’Or, which will be unveiled on December 2.
Real Madrid and Croatia midfielder Luka Modric won both awards last year to end Ronaldo and Messi’s ten-year domination.
In the past three years the podiums for both awards have been almost identical apart from Egyptian Mohamed Salah’s third place in The Best in 2018, a spot occupied by France’s Antoine Griezmann in the Ballon d’Or.
Based on Liverpool’s success last season it could be Van Dijk’s turn to become the first defender since Italy’s former World Cup winner Fabio Cannavaro in 2006.
The 28-year-old proved himself among the best defenders in the world for Liverpool and the Dutch national side who reached the Nations League final.
Liverpool also missed out on the Premier League title by just one point behind Manchester City.
Both Messi and Ronaldo have won FIFA’s award in different guises five times each.
Former Real Madrid star Ronaldo’s six-year reign as the Champions League top scorer ended last season.
The 34-year-old scored six goals in Juventus’s European campaign, including an incredible treble against Atletico Madrid, before they were eliminated in the quarter-finals.
Ronaldo also won the Nations League with Portugal and his first Serie A title with Juventus.
Messi was top scorer in the Champions League last season with 12 goals before Barcelona were eliminated by Liverpool in the semi-finals.
The Argentine was also the top European scorer with 36 goals and won La Liga title with Barcelona.
The 32-year-old helped Argentina to bronze at 2019 Copa America.
Messi however could pay for his three-month suspension by South American football body CONMEBOL after alleging corruption at the Copa America.
Among the women, American World Cup winners Megan Rapinoe and Alex Morgan, are in the running along with England’s Lucy Bronze.
Rapinoe, 34, left France with a Golden Boot and Golden Ball award.
The three contenders for the men’s coaching award are Liverpool’s Champions League winning coach Jurgen Klopp, along with Tottenham’s Mauricio Pochettino, who reached the European final, and Manchester City’s Pep Guardiola.
US women’s coach Jill Ellis is in the running for the women’s coaching award along with England’s Phil Neville and Dutch coach Sarina Wiegman.
England full-back Lucy Bronze won UEFA’s women’s award and is on FIFA’s shortlist with the United States’ World Cup-winning duo Megan Rapinoe and Alex Morgan.
Manchester City boss Pep Guardiola is up against Liverpool’s Jurgen Klopp and Mauricio Pochettino of Tottenham for best men’s coach.
Phil Neville, who led England’s women to a World Cup semi-final, is up for the women’s coach award with the USA’s Jill Ellis and Sarina Wiegman who guided European champions the Netherlands to the World Cup final.
FIFA Best shortlists
Cristiano Ronaldo (Juventus/Portugal), Lionel Messi (Barcelona/Argentina), Virgil van Dijk (Liverpool/Netherlands)
Lucy Bronze (Lyon/England), Alex Morgan (Orlando Pride/USA), Megan Rapinoe (Reign FC/USA)
Pep Guardiola (Manchester City), Jurgen Klopp (Liverpool), Mauricio Pochettino (Tottenham)
Jill Ellis (USA), Phil Neville (England), Sarina Wiegman (Netherlands)
Christiane Endler (Paris St-Germain/Chile), Hedvig Lindahl (Wolfsburg/Sweden), Sari van Veenendaal (Atletico Madrid/Netherlands)
Alisson (Liverpool/Brazil), Ederson (Manchester City/Brazil), Marc-Andre ter Stegen (Barcelona/Germany)
Puskas award (for best goal):
Lionel Messi (Barcelona v Real Betis), Juan Quintero (River Plate v Racing Club), Daniel Zsori (Debrecen v Ferencvaros)
The 28-year-old is the first defender to win the award since the inaugural edition in 2010-11.
He moved to Liverpool from Southampton in January 2018 for a then-world record fee for a defender of £75 million ($91.4 million), immediately helping them reach that season’s Champions League final where they lost to Real Madrid.
But Van Dijk was a key figure as Liverpool won their first major trophy since 2012 last term, while also setting a club-record points tally in finishing second by a point behind Manchester City in the Premier League.
“I wasn’t 18 and went straight to the top. I had to work every step of the way,” added Van Dijk, who was also part of the Netherlands side who lost the inaugural Nations League final to Ronaldo’s Portugal.
Messi and Ronaldo had claimed five of the previous eight awards between them, with Andres Iniesta (2012), Franck Ribery (2013) and Luka Modric (2018) completing the winners’ list.
“It’s not easy but of course we have a good relationship,” said Ronaldo of Messi.
“We have not yet had dinner but it is nice. We push each other and it’s good to be part of the history of football.”
Ronaldo’s first season in Italy after joining Juventus from Real Madrid brought him a Serie A winners’ medal, but the Turin giants suffered a shock Champions League quarter-final loss to Ajax.
“It was a special year,” said the 34-year-old.
Full-back Bronze won the Women’s Champions League title with Lyon before helping England reach the women’s World Cup semi-finals.
“We had an amazing season, winning the treble,” said Bronze of Lyon’s exploits. “I think any of my teammates could have been up here receiving the award today.”
The 27-year-old Bronze is the first English player to win either of the UEFA player of the year titles.
Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo and Virgil van Dijk have been named candidates for this year’s UEFA Men’s Player of the Year award, European football’s governing body announced on Thursday.
The prize will be awarded to one of the trio during the draw for the Champions League group stage in Monaco on August 29, after they were shortlisted by a jury of coaches and journalists.
England’s Lucy Bronze, Ballon d’Or winner Ada Hegerberg and France’s Amandine Henry have been shortlisted for the women’s award. All three play for European champions Lyon.
Van Dijk has joined Messi and Ronaldo, the two iconic players of their generation, on the shortlist after starring in defence for Liverpool as they won a sixth Champions League and came close to winning their first domestic league title in 29 years.
Messi won the first edition of the award in 2011 while Ronaldo has won it on three occasions, in 2014, 2016 and 2017.
Luka Modric is the current holder of the men’s award after winning the Champions League and taking Croatia to the World Cup final in 2018, while Wolfsburg’s Danish striker Pernille Harder bagged the women’s prize.
Virgil Van Dijk believes Liverpool can use their Champions League escape against Napoli as a springboard to win Europe’s elite club competition.
Jurgen Klopp’s side booked their place in the last 16 with a tense 1-0 win over Napoli at Anfield on Tuesday.
A fine finish from Mohamed Salah put Liverpool ahead, but the Reds needed goalkeeper Alisson Becker to make a superb save to deny Arkadiusz Milik in the closing seconds before they could finally relax.
Liverpool are also top of the Premier League after going unbeaten in their first 16 games this season, raising the prospect of Klopp’s men winning a first English title since 1990 while also challenging for a sixth European Cup.
Dutch defender Van Dijk sees no reason why Liverpool can’t win the Champions League this term after losing last season’s final against Real Madrid.
“It’s something that we all want, it’s something that we are going to give everything for,” Van Dijk said.
“We want to play on the highest level and the Champions League, other than the Premier League for us, is the highest level.
“We want to reach the maximum and hopefully do better than we did last year in the Champions League. You need to have dreams, you need to go for it, otherwise why would you be a footballer?
“It’s a great time to be a Liverpool fan or player. It’s tough but enjoy it and embrace it. These are the days you want to experience as a footballer and we are.”
Liverpool have conceded just six goals in the league this season and, after some less solid displays in their previous Champions League games, they managed to replicate that domestic defensive strength to keep Napoli at bay.
Van Dijk revealed much of that is built on the team ethic which means the players being confident enough to challenge each other in order to maintain their high standards.
“You need to be hard with each other. When things aren’t going right you need to tell each other, otherwise it’s going to be too easy. I think that’s a sign of a good team,” he said.
“When people are shouting at me I take it because they want to make me better and (if it is) their mistake they take it as well if I shout to them.
“That’s how it is, we’re all grown-ups, we take it and after the game, if you’re not happy with it then you discuss it.”
Van Dijk said Liverpool had been frustrated at missing “big chances” against Napoli, including one opportunity that he himself volleyed over the bar.
“We could have made it a lot easier, we could have scored another two or three, we didn’t, and then it was important for us to win our battles and keep it tight and we did,” he said.
Liverpool defender Virgil van Dijk was a relieved man after giving away a late penalty that Riyad Mahrez missed in a goalless draw with title rivals Manchester City on Sunday.
City, the reigning Premier League champions, were given a gilt-edged chance to leave Anfield with a win for the first time since 2003 when Van Dijk brought down Leroy Sane inside the box five minutes from time.
But Mahrez, City’s club-record signing, blasted high over the bar with regular penalty-taker Sergio Aguero having already been substituted by Pep Guardiola.
“It is not smart to dive in there,” Van Dijk told Sky Sports.
“It was a penalty and it shouldn’t have happened, but I’m very happy we didn’t concede.”
Unlike some players, he added he had watched the penalty.
“I watched it because I wanted to get the rebound if he missed it,” Van Dijk explained.
“They did well, as did we, up until the penalty moment.
“We were unlucky not to score, and lucky not to concede as well, so I think we cancelled each other out. It was a tough game against the champions and I’m happy we kept the clean sheet,” he added.
Mahrez has now missed five of his last eight Premier League penalties, four for Leicester, from where he signed for £60 million ($78.7 million), and one for City.
But City defender John Stones defended the decision to let him take the high-pressure spot-kick by saying: “It is one of those things in football.
“Riyad Mahrez was taking them really well in training all week, but it happens and we have to move on.”
Virgil van Dijk has lived up to his billing as the world’s most expensive defender in his short Liverpool career, but shutting out a desperate Manchester City in the second leg of their Champions League quarter-final on Tuesday will be his biggest test yet.
Runaway Premier League leaders City could line up with the most expensive defence ever assembled for their rescue mission, but they may regret letting Van Dijk get away if they fail in their mammoth task to overturn a 3-0 first-leg deficit.
Liverpool beat off competition from City to sign Van Dijk for £75 million ($106 million) in January from Southampton, six months after their first attempt to land the Dutchman failed.
Jurgen Klopp was much-criticised early in the campaign for refusing to splash out on a backup option to Van Dijk as Liverpool’s chances of challenging City for the title vanished quickly due to defensive deficiencies.
However, Klopp’s patience to get his prime target has been rewarded as Van Dijk has spearheaded a turnaround in Liverpool’s ability to keep opponents at bay.
“What we need at Liverpool are these kind of players who are leaders,” said Klopp recently on Van Dijk’s influence.
The Dutch captain will be examined to the full at the Etihad, though, where Liverpool lost 5-0 earlier in the season.
“They have so much quality, they are going to win the league that’s pretty clear, that’s not for no reason,” said Van Dijk on Tuesday.
“We feel we are in a great moment at the moment and I think we can make it difficult for any team in the world.
“But we still need to show it, be ready for a fight, ready for a big game.”
Klopp’s men were also thrashed 4-1 by Tottenham and involved in thrilling 3-3 draws at Arsenal and Sevilla as they were routinely torn apart on their toughest travels before Van Dijk’s arrival.
Often overshadowed by the prolific front three of Mohamed Salah, Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mane at the other end of the field, Liverpool’s improvement at the back, though, is not down to Van Dijk alone.
All those early-season collapses on the road also came prior to Andy Robertson and Trent Alexander-Arnold establishing themselves as Klopp’s first-choice full-backs.
Despite their more illustrious history, Liverpool struggle to compete financially with Abu-Dhabi backed City’s budget.
Even Van Dijk’s signing was financed by the £142 million sale of Philippe Coutinho to Barcelona in January.
But Liverpool have proved far more adept at finding bargain solutions.
City spent over £130 million on full-backs alone last summer in buying Kyle Walker, Benjamin Mendy and Danilo.
By contrast, Robertson was a £10 million pick-up from Hull City, who were relegated from the Premier League last season, whilst Alexander-Arnold has been at the club since the age of six.
“We know as a team we can defend very well,” added Van Dijk. “Pretty compact as you could see in the second half against them (in the first leg.)”
Alexander-Arnold was constantly targeted by City up against the pace and trickery of £37 million German international Leroy Sane.
Yet, rather than being intimidated by the opposition, or the frenzied atmosphere of Anfield on a big European night, the 19-year-old right-back produced the performance of his career to date in nullifying Sane and winning man-of-the-match.
“It’s really pretty rare that Sane had pretty much nothing for finishing, making goals, stuff like that,” said Klopp afterwards. “It was outstandingly good, to be honest.”
Patience was also key with Robertson. The Scot found himself sidelined for the majority of the first half of the season until an injury to Alberto Moreno in December handed him a run in the side.
Five-time European Cup winners, Liverpool have waited a decade to get back into the Champions League semi-finals. But as Van Dijk shows, good things come to those who wait.