Champions League

Van Dijk-led defence set for City acid test

2018-04-09 17:45
Virgil Van Dijk (Getty Images)

Manchester - 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 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 back-up 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.

 

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Fixtures
Tuesday, 17 September 2019
Lyon v Zenit St. Petersburg, Groupama Stadium 18:55
Inter Milan v Slavia Prague, San Siro 18:55
Ajax v Lille, Amsterdam ArenA 21:00
Benfica v RB Leipzig, da Luz 21:00
Red Bull Salzburg v Genk, Red Bull Arena 21:00
Napoli v Liverpool, San Paolo 21:00
Borussia Dortmund v Barcelona, Signal Iduna Park 21:00
Chelsea v Valencia, Stamford Bridge 21:00
Wednesday, 18 September 2019
Club Brugge v Galatasaray, Jan Breydel Stadion 18:55
Olympiacos v Tottenham Hotspur, Karaiskakis Stadium 18:55
Bayern Munchen v Red Star Belgrade, Allianz Arena 21:00
Bayer Leverkusen v Lokomotiv Moscow, BayArena 21:00
Dinamo Zagreb v Atalanta, Maksimir Stadium 21:00
Shakhtar Donetsk v Manchester City, Metalist Stadium 21:00
Paris SG v Real Madrid, Parc des Princes 21:00
Atletico Madrid v Juventus, Wanda Metropolitano 21:00
Tuesday, 01 October 2019
Atalanta v Shakhtar Donetsk, San Siro 18:55
Real Madrid v Club Brugge, Santiago Bernabeu 18:55
Juventus v Bayer Leverkusen, Allianz Stadium 21:00
Manchester City v Dinamo Zagreb, Etihad Stadium 21:00
Lokomotiv Moscow v Atletico Madrid, Lokomotiv Stadium 21:00
Red Star Belgrade v Olympiacos, Stadion Rajko Mitic 21:00
Tottenham Hotspur v Bayern Munchen, Tottenham Hotspur Stadium 21:00
Galatasaray v Paris SG, Turk Telekom Arena 21:00
Wednesday, 02 October 2019
Slavia Prague v Borussia Dortmund, Eden Arena 18:55
Genk v Napoli, Luminus Arena 18:55
Liverpool v Red Bull Salzburg, Anfield 21:00
Barcelona v Inter Milan, Camp Nou 21:00
Valencia v Ajax, Mestalla 21:00
RB Leipzig v Lyon, Red Bull Arena 21:00
Zenit St. Petersburg v Benfica, Saint Petersburg Stadium 21:00
Lille v Chelsea, Stade Pierre-Mauroy 21:00
Tuesday, 22 October 2019
Shakhtar Donetsk v Dinamo Zagreb, Metalist Stadium 18:55
Atletico Madrid v Bayer Leverkusen, Wanda Metropolitano 18:55
Juventus v Lokomotiv Moscow, Allianz Stadium 21:00
Manchester City v Atalanta, Etihad Stadium 21:00
Club Brugge v Paris SG, Jan Breydel Stadion 21:00
Olympiacos v Bayern Munchen, Karaiskakis Stadium 21:00
Tottenham Hotspur v Red Star Belgrade, Tottenham Hotspur Stadium 21:00
Galatasaray v Real Madrid, Turk Telekom Arena 21:00
Wednesday, 23 October 2019
Ajax v Chelsea, Amsterdam ArenA 18:55
RB Leipzig v Zenit St. Petersburg, Red Bull Arena 18:55
Benfica v Lyon, da Luz 21:00
Slavia Prague v Barcelona, Eden Arena 21:00
Genk v Liverpool, Luminus Arena 21:00
Red Bull Salzburg v Napoli, Red Bull Arena 21:00
Inter Milan v Borussia Dortmund, San Siro 21:00
Lille v Valencia, Stade Pierre-Mauroy 21:00
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