Virgil van Dijk has been encouraged to “rise to the occasion” for Liverpool this weekend as he looks to keep Man City forward Erling Haaland quiet.
Van Dijk has not been his usual self at the start of this season as Liverpool have endured a troublesome opening few weeks.
The Dutchman has an incredibly tough task this weekend as he looks to get the better of Haaland.
The forward has enjoyed a sensational start to life as a Manchester City player. He has already scored 20 goals this term and it has only taken him 12 games to reach this tally.
Haaland will no doubt be desperate to add to his account when City visit Anfield on Sunday afternoon.
Pep Guardiola’s side are favourites to win given Liverpool’s form. Though the Reds were boosted in midweek as they hammered Rangers 7-1.
Liverpool legend Graeme Souness thinks Van Dijk should be “licking his lips” ahead of this game:
“Erling Haaland looks like a modern robot and the question everyone will be asking this weekend is how can Liverpool and Virgil van Dijk deal with him?” Souness wrote for The Daily Mail.
“‘With difficulty’, is the facile answer. When you’re Van Dijk, you’re usually thinking about the forward you’re up against and concluding, ‘I’m quicker than him. I can outjump him. I’m stronger than him’.
“Perhaps for the first time, Van Dijk’s thoughts tomorrow will be, ‘He may be quicker than me. He may be stronger than me. He may be able to outjump me’. This is unknown territory for him.
“Virgil van Dijk is in unchartered waters heading into this fixture with the defender possibly thinking of Erling Haaland’s physical superiority
“But however invincible an opponent might seem and however few chinks in his armour, there is always the psychological dimension. There is always a chance for a player to rise to the occasion, which Van Dijk must do on Sunday.
“Irrespective of Van Dijk’s form, irrespective of where Liverpool are at the moment, this is a game he should be licking his lips for.
“He’s going to be playing against the guy they’re all raving about. He can shut them up. Shut out all that white noise. He can tell himself, ‘If I go out there and have Haaland in my pocket, they won’t be talking like that again’.”
Souness went onto suggest that the first battle between Van Dijk and Haaland could prove pivotal:
“Van Dijk’s first foot race with Haaland will be an interesting one,” Souness continued.
On that score, the old Bill Shankly adage that they preached to us — ‘the first two yards are in your head, son’ — is as true today as ever.
Then there’s the first time they’ll jump together for a ball. Who outjumps whom? If Van Dijk wins these first challenges, Anfield will respond.
“It’s a stadium like no other in that respect. The difficulty is that the response of a player of Haaland’s class is, ‘He’s just beaten me there. He’s not going to beat me a second time’. You’ve got to beat him again and again and again.”
He added: “This is the chance for Liverpool to make fools of those people who’ve doubted them.”
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