EPL

Neville 'can't wait' for battle between Van Dijk and 'phenomenon' Haaland

By Sports Desk October 14, 2022

The outoome of Liverpool's clash with Manchester City is likely to hinge on how Virgil van Dijk copes with "absolute phenomenon" Erling Haaland, according to Gary Neville.

City trail Premier League leaders Arsenal by a point ahead of their trip to Anfield on Sunday, while Liverpool are 13 points further back, seemingly out of title contention already.

Pep Guardiola's men are the only unbeaten side in the Premier League, thanks in no small part to the extraordinary exploits of Haaland.

Having only played nine games in the top flight, Haaland has already broken the records for most goals (15) and goal involvements (18) in a player's first 10 appearances in the competition. 

A trip to Merseyside will see Norway striker face arguably his toughest opponent yet in Van Dijk, and Neville is excited by the prospect of their duel.

"I still think, no matter what form Liverpool are in and where they are, Sunday will still feel like the toughest game they [City] are going to face," Neville told Sky Sports.

"Look, at the end of the day you know what I feel about those two clubs, but on Sunday you can't help but think of Haaland against Van Dijk.

"You just can't stop thinking about how that's going to play out. The best centre-back in the world for the last three or four years, who has struggled a little bit more this season. 

"But he's against this absolute phenomenon. That Liverpool back line, which pushes up with space in behind… I'm fascinated by that, I can't wait for it, to be honest."

Liverpool are winless in their last five Premier League meetings with the champions (D3 L2) – they have never previously gone six without a victory against City in the league.

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    Kirby pulled up in the warm-up before the Lionesses’ 7-2 friendly victory over Austria on Friday night, and on Sunday the Football Association confirmed she had withdrawn from the squad for further assessment on a “minor knee injury.”

    It is yet another blow for Kirby, who missed out on the Lionesses’ World Cup campaign last summer after undergoing knee surgery for a long-standing issue, and in October pulled on an England shirt for the first time in over a year.

    Asked about Kirby’s injury history and limited starts for her club, Wiegman said: “I don’t think at Chelsea it always has been the reason that she’s injured or not available or not starting.

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    Kirby has returned to Chelsea, with what Wiegman says was “some irritation on her knee. It’s a minor injury, but we didn’t want to take any risk, so she’s being assessed at the club and we don’t expect it to be a bad injury.”

    The 30-year-old started every game of England’s Euro 2022-winning run, scoring twice and picking up three assists, but in the months prior to selection had suffered from a debilitating fatigue-related illness, later admitting in a book by Millie Farrow, released last year, that she would be forced to rethink her playing career if it happened again.

    She told the former Chelsea striker: “I think the competitiveness in me is ‘try one more time’ but I will get to the stage where I think ‘I can’t keep doing this.”

    Kirby also sat out a long spell during the 2019-20 season with pericarditis, a heart condition, and during last February’s Conti Cup final re-aggravated a knee issue that had plagued her since she was a pre-teen.

    Though she had hoped to avoid surgery, doctors ultimately determined it would be the best way forward to treat what they diagnosed as tripartite patella, in which two bone fragments were attached by tissue, but not joined to her patella bone.

    After missing England’s World Cup campaign last summer, which saw them finish runners-up, Kirby made an emotional return to international action in October, coming on as a substitute in the Lionesses’ 1-0 Nations League victory over Belgium.

    She has appeared in 14 Women’s Super League matches and five Champions League contests this season, scoring three goals and picking up two assists across all competitions, though her starts have been limited.

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