Liverpool captain Virgil van Dijk admits the team was probably guilty of trying too hard to compensate for the absence of a host of star players in the 4-1 victory over Luton.

Forwards Darwin Nunez and Mohamed Salah were the latest added to an absentee list, which had grown to 11 senior players and left manager Jurgen Klopp short of options, certainly of match-winners, as his bench comprised three defenders and four academy players.

The likes of Harvey Elliott and Cody Gakpo, and to a lesser extent Luis Diaz, all struggled up front in the first half, but four goals in an impressive second-half comeback after going behind in the 12th minute re-established a four-point advantage at the top of the Premier League.

Klopp’s side have won now 22 points from losing positions this season, more than any other team.

“First half with the very first chance (for Diaz) we could have changed the game, but we were a bit rushed in the final third,” said Van Dijk.

“Obviously the way we turned it around was credit to the boys.

“Staying calm is the most difficult thing to do, especially in the situation where we are at; everyone wants to show themselves and play their best game ever, and you have to try to stay calm and find the right solution.

“The first half was a bit rushed and that’s why we struggled a little bit in that sense. Being 1-0 down is never nice, but the way we bounced back is good to see.”

Elliott, on his 100th appearance, scored the team’s 100th goal of the season with the late fourth to end his night on a high after coming in for some vociferous criticism from the crowd.

However, Klopp – who remonstrated with a fan who appeared to target Elliott after yet another pass went astray in the first half – defended the 20-year-old.

“Top performance. And Harvey is a top player; 100 games for Liverpool FC in not the worst period of the club’s history, where you cannot afford players who (just) play the position, that’s a proper sign,” he added.

“He had not a great first half. There was a pass with Lucho (Diaz); I saw he wants to play the pass instead of maybe he can go in a one-on-one situation.

“But the reaction in the second half is the main difference, that’s the thing. That made this performance the performance and I’m so happy for him.

“I don’t lose patience in these moments, I know that it’s a challenge for young boys.

“When everything is great, they are super talents. When things don’t go well, you have to show up. And that’s what he’s learning more and more.

“And with 100 games under his belt, we all know he will definitely play another 100, 200, 300 – if you ask him, 500 – for this club.”

Liverpool captain Virgil van Dijk insists he is “fully committed” to the club as he dismissed reports suggesting he is ready to quit Anfield.

The Netherlands defender’s comments on whether he would be around after manager Jurgen Klopp departs this summer sparked speculation he could follow his manager out of the door.

Klopp announced on Friday that he will step down at the end of the season, and, asked whether he saw himself as part of the next Liverpool era, Van Dijk replied: “That’s a big question. Well, I don’t know.”

The 32-year-old has 18 months remaining on his current deal and, speaking to the Men in Blazers podcast on Tuesday, Van Dijk moved to clear up the uncertainty created since Klopp’s decision was made public.

“It’s much taken out of context,” the centre-back said of the response to his previous comments.

“To be 100 per cent clear, I am fully committed to the club. I love the club. I love the fans. It is fully taken out of context.”

With Liverpool top of the Premier League and in the final of the Carabao Cup, Van Dijk said ending the Klopp era with silverware remains the priority.

“It’s not about me, it’s not about I. It is about us and nothing has changed,” he added.

“Five days ago we weren’t even speaking about my contract so it’s silly.

“My full focus is on making sure this year can be very special, obviously (it was a) big announcement over the last couple of days. It has been a shock to each one of us connected to the club.

“We mean business, we want to crack on, we want to achieve things that we dreamed of at the start of the season and don’t get it twisted, I’m fully committed to the club – I love each and every second that I am the captain.”

Substitutes Cody Gakpo and Darwin Nunez came off the bench to help turn around Liverpool’s Carabao Cup semi-final first leg at home to Fulham and ensured they will take a 2-1 lead to Craven Cottage.

The pair were introduced early in the second half with the hosts trailing to Willian’s 19th-minute goal after a Virgil van Dijk error.

Liverpool were struggling for creativity without the injured Trent Alexander-Arnold – who helped turn a 3-2 Fulham lead into a 4-3 Reds win in last month’s Premier League meeting – but as at Arsenal in the FA Cup at the weekend Jurgen Klopp’s changes altered the game.

Nunez added a directness which had been lacking while Gakpo brought the composure and control to midfield Ryan Gravenberch had not before he was replaced by his Netherlands team-mate.

And the pair combined for Gakpo to score in the 71st minute, just three minutes after Curtis Jones’ deflected equaliser.

The last team to win at Anfield was Real Madrid in February. Before that it was another side in white, Leeds in October 2022, and Fulham – in their first League Cup semi-final – must have been encouraged by the start they had.

Klopp made six changes from the weekend and while that saw 20-year-old Conor Bradley deputise for Alexander-Arnold in only his second start of the season, it also included the return of Van Dijk.

The Netherlands captain was back after illness but his decision to head a ball aimlessly sideways on the edge of his area proved costly.

Andreas Pereira nipped in behind and cut the ball back to the penalty spot where a couple of neat touches from Willian opened up the space for him to fire through the legs of the recovering Dutchman and give goalkeeper Caoimhin Kelleher little chance.

Moments later Van Dijk was booked for catching Pereira in the face with an arm as his travails continued.

But his personal difficulties were matched by his team, who were too one-paced in their build-up.

Harvey Elliott was given Mohamed Salah’s position on the right wing but his role often seemed to require filling the space usually occupied by Alexander-Arnold, which meant dropping deep with Bradley pushing forward as an orthodox over-lapping full-back.

But apart from an early Jones attempt straight at Bernd Leno and a Diogo Jota narrow-angle shot across the face of goal chances were rare with Fulham having more on target in the first half.

The tempo increased after the break with Gravenberch shooting wide and Jota delaying a fraction too long having created space for himself with a square run across the penalty area allowing Antonee Robinson to block.

But as the hosts pressed for the equaliser Fulham were able to expose the space opening up in Liverpool’s defence and Kelleher got down low to parry a Bobby Decordova-Reid shot.

Alexis Mac Allister’s cross was turned over by Leno but the equaliser had an element of good fortune when Jones took aim from distance and went in off Tosin Adarabioyo’s back.

Leno was beaten again when Gakpo turned home Nunez’s near-post cross after linking with Jota.

Liverpool’s all-action Uruguay international could have all-but sealed Liverpool’s passage to Wembley before the return leg but a full-stretch Leno tipped over his header, pushed away a fierce drive and blocked his close-range effort.

Liverpool captain Virgil Van Dijk will not entertain talk of a Premier League title race unless the team can get to March in a similarly-strong position.

A 4-2 victory over Newcastle extended their advantage at the top of the table to three points over Aston Villa but, more significantly, ensured they stayed out of reach of Manchester City five points back, with their match in hand.

January is a significant month for Jurgen Klopp’s side as they do battle on three fronts, starting with an FA Cup third-round tie at Arsenal at the weekend followed by the first tie in a two-legged Carabao Cup semi-final at home to Fulham.

Due to the winter mini-break there are actually only two more scheduled league matches before February and that could help their primary aim of adding to the Premier League title they won in 2019-20 as it lessens the impact of the absence of Mohamed Salah, who signed off with two goals before heading to the African Nations Cup with Egypt.

But Van Dijk said they were not looking as far ahead as that.

“I’m not going to speak about any of this, I never did and I won’t do it now either,” he said when asked about the title race.

“It’s far too early to do that. We are at the start of January, we have players leaving now, we have players coming back from injury so let’s see what it brings.

“If in February/March we are still up there, obviously we have to get the last push going and see if we can squeeze it out, but for now we just focus on the game ahead, don’t look at others and try to improve ourselves.

“That’s always been the experience and it brought us one success over the last six years to win the Premier League and hopefully we will see what happens at the end of the season.”

Salah’s departure – having racked up 14 league goals and eight assists – will undoubtedly be felt but it is Klopp’s job to lessen how much.

He does at least have Diogo Jota fit again after a month’s absence, while midfielder Alexis Mac Allister’s return after a six-game absence will offset the loss of Wataru Endo to the Asian Cup.

“Obviously we are going to miss Mo and his qualities, his leadership qualities as well. The situation is how it is and the same goes for Wataru,” added Van Dijk.

“Other players have to step up and stay fit and it was good Jota came back, Macca came back and everyone has to be ready for a big game at the weekend in the FA Cup and then the Carabao Cup and then hopefully a little break again.

“I think December was already a very big month and the way we coped with that was very good in my opinion.

“Now we are going to play in three competitions, we have a chance to go to Wembley if we go through the Carabao Cup and to the next round of the FA Cup but how we approach it is game by game.

“It could be a good month but we will take it game by game and see.”

Liverpool struck a world-record deal to sign defender Virgil van Dijk from Southampton on this day six years ago.

It was announced on December 27, 2017 that the sought-after Dutchman would move to Anfield on January 1 in a transfer understood to be worth £75million, the highest price ever paid for a defender at that time.

A Southampton statement read: “Southampton Football Club can confirm it has reached an agreement with Liverpool over the transfer of Virgil van Dijk.

“Southampton have agreed a fee that will set a new world-record for a defender. The club wishes Virgil well in his future when the deal is completed on January 1, 2018.”

Van Dijk had handed in a transfer request during the summer of 2017 when trying to push through the move.

Following the announcement of Liverpool’s deal, the then 26-year-old wrote on Twitter: “Delighted and honoured to have agreed to become a Liverpool FC player. Today is a proud day for me and my family as I join one of the biggest clubs in world football.

“I can’t wait to pull on the famous red shirt for the first time in front of the Kop and will give everything I have to try and help this great club achieve something special in the years to come.”

Van Dijk made his Liverpool debut against Everton on January 5, 2018 in the third round of the FA Cup and scored the winning goal.

The 32-year-old has been regarded as one of the best players in the world over the past five years and played a key role in helping the Reds win several major trophies, including the Champions League and Premier League.

Manchester United set a new record for a fee paid for a defender when they recruited Harry Maguire from Leicester for £80m in 2019.

Liverpool captain Virgil van Dijk insists he was not being arrogant in dismissing Manchester United’s overly defensive display at Anfield.

The Dutchman provoked a response from former United midfielder Roy Keane when he said only one team played to win.

Keane said the comments were arrogant and disrespectful, adding: “He needs a reminder himself; he’s playing for a club that have won the title once in 30-odd years.”

Van Dijk insisted there was honesty but no arrogance in his words on a frustrating afternoon where Liverpool had 34 shots but failed to score for the first time since April.

“I like Roy Keane, if he said that then it’s fine,” he said.

“He is Man United throughout and I understand he could react like that but I felt what I said and there is absolutely no arrogance in that.

“Everyone who watched the game probably felt the same. We move on. We had the opportunity and we couldn’t score and that’s the frustrating part.”

For the first time since April Jurgen Klopp’s side failed to score, ending a club record-equalling run of 34 successive matches, and the 34 shots they attempted was their most on record (since 2003-04) without scoring.

Striker Darwin Nunez has not found the net in 10 matches, Mohamed Salah, who scored 10 in 12 league games before November’s international break, has just one in the last five, Luis Diaz has scored once in the league since mid-August while Cody Gakpo’s two league goals were both in September.

December is the worst time to lose your form with the number of fixtures during the month and Van Dijk admits the players may have been trying just too hard against their arch-rivals.

“Maybe (we were) trying to force it a little bit at times and we could have made a better decision but it was hard to break the low block down,” he added.

“You push, you push, you push and try to do everything in your power but it was one of those days we couldn’t find the right decision to score a goal.

“At times – I won’t say every time – we forced it too much to find a solution which wasn’t there but that’s football.”

There is no time to dwell on the disappointing result which cost them top spot as West Ham are the midweek visitors for the quarter-finals of the Carabao Cup, a competition Liverpool won in 2022.

“We move on and have to learn from a lot of moments – and we will – and focus on Wednesday,” said Van Dijk.

“Let’s go for it. It’s the first trophy that could be in reach and it will be a very tough game as West Ham are also in a good moment with good players.”

Virgil van Dijk and Dominik Szoboszlai goals ensured Liverpool ruined Chris Wilder’s Sheffield United homecoming with a 2-0 victory at Bramall Lane.

The Dutch centre-backfired home from a first-half corner and Szoboszlai added a second at the death to give the Reds all three points in South Yorkshire to extend their Premier League unbeaten run to eight games.

Jurgen Klopp’s men closed the gap on league leaders Arsenal to just two points.

Wilder was condemned to defeat in his first game back as Blades manager, two-and-a-half years after he left in March 2021, following Tuesday’s sacking of Paul Heckingbottom.

This was United’s 12th defeat from 15 games and although they are only four points behind Luton, they look to have a mountain to climb.

The 56-year-old was given a warm welcome before the game and his side started with enthusiasm, creating two openings in the first 20 minutes.

Cameron Archer led a lightning quick counter-attack and played in James McAtee, who really should have done better than to just poke straight at Caoimhin Kelleher from eight yards out.

It was Archer who had the next chance as he was given space to run in on goal until Van Dijk came across and blocked his shot at the vital moment.

Liverpool were far from their fluent best but began to take control and took the lead in the 37th minute.

Van Dijk was left completely free from Trent Alexander-Arnold’s corner and he stroked home from 12 yards for his first goal of the season.

The visitors continued to control the game and Blades goalkeeper Wes Foderingham had to be alert to tip Alexis Mac Allister’s dipping shot over the crossbar before the break.

Foderingham made an even better save 10 minutes into the second half as he showed brilliant reactions to palm over Mohamed Salah’s volley from another Alexander-Arnold corner.

The Blades managed to get a foothold in the game but their lack of quality in attack ensured that Kelleher was untested in the Liverpool goal as he filled in for the injured Allison Becker.

It was the Reds who had chances to kill the game as an incisive pass from the creative Alexander-Arnold played in Darwin Nunez but Foderingham again came to the Blades’ rescue.

United threw bodies forward in the final 10 minutes in a bid to try and earn a point, but they again failed to trouble Kelleher, with McAtee’s early effort their only shot on target in the match.

Instead, it was Liverpool who found a late goal, Szoboszlai clinically firing home after Nunez had won the ball back deep into time added on.

Virgil Van Dijk has weighed into the debate over Trent Alexander-Arnold’s best position by proclaiming his Liverpool team-mate as the complete package.

Alexander-Arnold delivered another reminder of his attacking talents as he got forward to strike a fine equaliser for the Reds in Saturday’s 1-1 draw at champions Manchester City.

The 25-year-old right-back had spent a lot of a tight Premier League encounter in defensive mode, trying to contain City’s tricky Belgium winger Jeremy Doku.

It was a sweet moment for Alexander-Arnold after plenty of debate over the past fortnight over whether or how he can fit into the England team.

Van Dijk, the Liverpool captain, said: “I think everyone this season, as a defender, one v one against Doku will have a tough afternoon. He’s a very good dribbler.

“But I don’t think he had a tough afternoon on the whole. It’s how you defend them together and try to get two v one in situations and, in the end, I’m pleased for him that he got the equaliser.

“He offers a lot defensively and, obviously in possession, he has qualities that are very special and he shows that as well, so he has the complete package.

“He has to keep doing what he’s doing, keep improving, keep that high standard he has for himself and we all have for him as well.”

Alexander-Arnold has expanded his game over the past year, not only playing as a conventional attacking full-back but also in a hybrid defence-central midfield role.

His recent England outings against Malta and North Macedonia were also in midfield and Van Dijk admits he does not know where he will ultimately end up.

“I don’t know, that’s for the coaches that work with him,” said the centre-back. “I think for the moment he’s playing just fine where he is right now.

“He has that freedom to mix it up and he has to do that because you see teams are working it out at times, so he has to be able to switch from staying on the outside and going on the inside as well.

“I think it’s a good learning curve for him as well and (on Saturday) he did that well because obviously he was playing against one of the most in-form wingers at the moment.”

Saturday’s result kept Liverpool within a point of title favourites City and, after the frustration of failing to challenge last season, Van Dijk hopes the 2020 champions can push them much closer this time.

The Dutchman said: “It’s no secret we want to challenge for everything we are competing in and this year we are looking consistent, something we were missing last year.

“But we are in November with a difficult period coming up, difficult games ahead of us. Anything can happen but hopefully, if we don’t get many injuries or no injuries, we have to confident and give it everything.”

Virgil van Dijk is hopeful Liverpool have rediscovered what it takes to push Manchester City all the way in the Premier League title race again.

The two had epic battles in 2018-19 and 2021-22, when City pipped their north-west rivals by just a single point, while in between those campaigns the Reds clinched their first championship in 30 years.

Having experienced a huge dropoff last season in finishing fifth, Jurgen Klopp’s side have bounced back after a summer midfield rebuild and will resume after the international break with a trip to the Etihad in a first-v-second clash.

 

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It is the closest Liverpool have been to City in 18 months and Van Dijk believes with consistency in results and fitness they can mount a sustained challenge.

Asked whether he thought they were capable of running City close for the title, the captain said: “I hope so.

“You have all these aspirations, dreams, goals and you want to compete until the very end in every competition we are in.

“That is definitely the case at the beginning of the season and then you grow into a season. It’s November and there is still so much to play for.

“It’s going well, but if we had not got a result against Brentford (a 3-0 win at the weekend) we would have been in that downward spiral – from the outside world of course – because you don’t set it up nicely for the game after the international break.

“Overall this season we have been doing well but the season is not decided in November and there could be so many twists and turns, we all know that.”

Key to that will be staying injury-free. Against Brentford, Liverpool’s options were down to the bare minimum with Alexis Mac Allister suspended and Ryan Gravenberch, Curtis Jones, Thiago Alcantara and Stefan Bajcetic – plus defenders Joe Gomez, Andy Robertson and Ibrahima Konate – all unavailable.

Klopp fielded a bench in which only one outfield player was aged over 20 but they got the job done to move into second and set up the intriguing trip to the Etihad a week on Saturday.

“I looked in the dressing room and it felt like we were the under-23s but we still we have the quality, if you are good enough you are old enough,” Van Dijk added.

“But we need to see, we need a bit of luck, we need no injuries and need consistency.

“We finished on a positive feeling and now it is time to focus on something else (internationals).

“When we come back there is a very big one away and we will see if we are ready for that test.”

Liverpool captain Virgil van Dijk will miss the Europa League tie in Toulouse due to illness but his place could be filled by a youngster whose rapid rise this season initially took manager Jurgen Klopp by surprise.

When 20-year-old Jarell Quansah joined the squad for pre-season training there was not a lot of consideration given to him playing much of a role in the current campaign and there were even discussions about sending him out on loan.

Klopp decided against that and after making his debut in the 10-man win at Newcastle in August, the academy graduate has made seven appearances, including a Premier League start at Wolves and back-to-back appearances in Europe, and will be looking to add to that in Toulouse, whom Liverpool thrashed 5-1 last time out.

“Virgil is a little bit ill, it will not be a big thing but we didn’t want him on the plane and maybe others have it a little bit as well,” said Klopp.

“That’s why we left him at home. It should be all right for the weekend.”

Asked about Quansah’s prospects, the German added: “If you would have asked me pre-season (if) he would be that good I would have been surprised but since then I saw him every day and I am not surprised any more.

“It’s great to have a boy from our own academy with that potential and quality. We will see where he ends up but it is extremely promising. There was talk about him going on loan and we said ‘no’, that was obviously a very good decision.”

Klopp’s biggest selection problem appears to be in midfield as he has also had to leave Ryan Gravenberch and Curtis Jones behind.

“Ryan got a little niggle in the knee. He was running already today but there was no chance for this game,” he added.

“We hope there is a chance for Brentford and he will definitely be back after the international break.”

Jones missed Sunday’s draw at Luton with a “low-grade” hamstring problem which Klopp said would keep him out for a couple of weeks but with Thiago Alcantara and Stefan Bajcetic long-term absentees, it means midfield resources are being stretched.

Wataru Endo and Harvey Elliott look certain to start as Liverpool look to book qualification to the knockout stages with two matches to spare and Alexis Mac Allister could be favourite for the third spot as he is suspended for Sunday’s game against Brentford, although Dominik Szoboszlai, Cody Gakpo and 19-year-old James McConnell could also play there.

Sunday’s goalscorer Luis Diaz has also travelled as he awaits further news on the status of his father after his kidnapping in Colombia.

“Always positive signs but not real news. He decided (to rejoin the squad) last week because he cannot go to Colombia – that will not be the case in the moment – and when he is here training and around matches it is a safe place,” said Klopp.

 

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“He wants to be with us, he has travelled and is available.”

After their hammering at Anfield last time out, Toulouse coach Carles Martinez is looking for a degree of improvement.

“It’s true that 5-1 is a pretty heavy score. The result is severe but we have gained experience,” he said.

“We don’t keep this match in mind. We think about what we can improve. It is mainly the mental qualities that will be the most important.”

Virgil van Dijk says Liverpool’s players have created a “safe place” for Luis Diaz in the days since his father was kidnapped in Colombia.

The 26-year-old came off the bench in the 83rd minute of the team’s 1-1 draw with Luton on Sunday and scored a dramatic equaliser deep into added time.

It was his first appearance since his father, Luis Manuel Diaz, was abducted in the town of Barrancas on October 28.

The striker was absent for Liverpool’s wins over Nottingham Forest and Bournemouth but marked a sensational return to action by heading in Harvey Elliott’s cross five minutes into stoppage time at Kenilworth Road.

The group responsible for the abduction, the National Liberation Army, has asked for “security guarantees” in exchange for his father’s release.

Following the game against Luton, Van Dijk said: “He’s been training with us, knowing that it’s so fresh, what’s going on. He feels like being with us is a safe place, so it helps him.

“We’re here for him. We mentioned it last week, it’s an absolutely horrible situation. Hopefully there will be a solution. We’ll be here for him and everybody should support him. Hopefully it will be sorted as soon as possible.”

Liverpool had looked set to fall to a shock defeat before Diaz’s late intervention, falling behind 10 minutes from time to a goal by Luton substitute Tahith Chong.

“He’s still disappointed because he also wanted to win,” said Van Dijk. “There’s a lot of emotions in his head. It must have been (meant to be) that he should have scored. I’m happy for him, but hopefully we can get his father back as soon as possible.

“You can’t imagine it, that’s the scary part. The only thing we can do is hope they will find him safe and sound and they get him back to his family.

“When it happened it was a shock to everyone. We spoke about it and it should give us extra motivation. He doesn’t want us to suffer from what he’s going through, he wants us to take fuel from it.”

In front of a raucous home support, the visitors struggled to break down Luton for long periods as they sought the win that would have put them second in the Premier League.

Darwin Nunez in particular was guilty of wasteful finishing when chances came, hitting the bar in the first half before conspiring to balloon an effort over from three yards out after the break.

“I don’t think it was down to the atmosphere,” said Van Dijk. “We had the first chance after half-an-hour. Score that one and it’s a completely different game.

“We didn’t and then they need one opportunity. Their results here this season have been very small margins. That’s down to how they play, they defend compact and solid.

“I respect that, but we could have made it a lot easier.”

Former Liverpool captain Sami Hyypia believes Virgil van Dijk will prove this season he is once again the best centre-back in the Premier League.

The Netherlands international has faced questions about whether can rediscover the form which arguably made him the world’s top defender prior to a knee ligament injury in October 2020.

However, there are signs the current Reds skipper is edging closer to his best with his commanding performance in the weekend’s Merseyside derby win over Everton another indicator of a return to his previous high level.

 

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“He is one of the best in the business in the world,” Hyypia told the PA news agency at a Nike Game On initiative which, in conjunction with the LFC Foundation, has provided more than 8,000 local schoolchildren with access to a range of sports.

 

“I think he has raised the standard with everyone expecting him to play at that level every time and that is very difficult.

“But he is doing well, he is a big part of our team and a big leader of the team so I think we all need to be patient and his best is coming.

“I think this season he has shown in some games he is still at the level and I have no doubts he will be the best centre-back in the league this season.”

Despite their good start to the season there has been scrutiny on Liverpool’s defence, with right-back Trent Alexander-Arnold now operating in a hybrid midfield playmaker role in possession and opponents seeking to exploit the space in behind.

The focus is likely to intensify following the news left-back Andy Robertson will be sidelined for three months after shoulder surgery, with Kostas Tsimikas having to deputise.

But Hyypia has faith in both Liverpool’s full-backs, adding: “Trent is like a midfield player. He can pass short and long and has the vision to see the passes.

“I think this role suits him well and when he is in the midfield position he doesn’t have that big distance to go back defending when we lose the ball.”

On Tsimikas, the former Finland international said: “I think he will get a lot of responsibility now and he has his chance to show what kind of player he is.

“Hopefully he is courageous and takes his chance. If that is not going to work then Jurgen (Klopp) needs to think of something else to solve the problem but I have confidence in Tsimikas that he can do the job.”

Having come through a testing set of fixtures Liverpool sit third in the table, a point behind leaders Manchester City. With games to come against Nottingham Forest, Bournemouth and Luton – all teams in the bottom six – and Brentford before a late November trip to the Etihad Stadium, Hyypia believes the platform has been laid for another title challenge.

“The ambition is to win the league,” he said.

“As long as we are competing until May to be the champions I think we can say we will have had a successful season.

“The top four is always the minimum target to reach but everyone wants success and some trophies this season.

“It would be foolish to look at what the others are doing. We just concentrate on what we are doing and do what we do best and then we see what the result is.”

The first three years of Game On programme, funded by Nike and delivered by the LFC Foundation, has engaged more than 8,000 children – including 950-plus disabled and 1,000-plus ethnically-diverse participants – aged between seven and 12 and 46 grassroots sports clubs with coaching delivered in 15 different sports.

“Game On is about using the power of sport, Nike and Liverpool to engage local young people in sport – unusually for us not football,” said LFC Foundation chief executive Matt Parish.

Liverpool captain Virgil van Dijk accepts they were lucky not to have Ibrahima Konate sent off in the 2-0 Merseyside derby win over 10-man Everton.

Mohamed Salah scored twice late in the second half after Ashley Young was dismissed for a second bookable offence just before the interval but the hosts were fortunate referee Craig Pawson did not deem the already-cautioned Konate’s tackle on substitute Beto to be worthy of another yellow.

Manager Jurgen Klopp’s decision to immediately substitute the France international to avoid a fifth red card of the campaign was almost an admission of guilt and Van Dijk believes they may have finally had some fortune with the officiating after a number of decisions going against them this season.

“Definitely. He (Pawson) could have given it, he didn’t give it. Bit of luck for us. So what can I say? Nothing else,” said the Netherlands captain, who has suffered personally already with a red card at Newcastle in August.

Liverpool managed to have Alexis MacAllister’s dismissal at home to Bournemouth overturned on appeal but have seen Diogo Jota and Curtis Jones sent off in the controversial defeat at Tottenham during which VAR officials made a huge error in disallowing Luis Diaz’s perfectly-good opening goal.

For a time it appeared the club were engaged in a running battle with Premier Game Match Officials Ltd over the incidents in that game, which has led to a lot of questions being asked about refereeing standards and some of the decisions being made generally.

In particular the threshold for yellow cards appears to be lower this term in relation to time-wasting and complaining.

Van Dijk said the players were trying to steer clear of allowing that to spill out onto the pitch.

During the win over Everton there were a couple of occasions, such as for Young’s second caution and during the wait for VAR to overturn Pawson’s decision not to award a handball against Michael Keane, when the Liverpool captain could be seen ushering his team-mates away from the official.

“I think tackles and stuff that’s for the referees to judge,” said the Dutchman.

“When there is a decision we wanted to stay away from the referee and to make sure we don’t get yellow cards for shouting or saying, ‘Ref, yellow for this’.

“That’s something we have influence on and something we should stay away from. We did that very well, especially with the circumstances.”

While Young’s dismissal made Everton’s task more difficult they were on the back foot for the entire match after their only shot on target came in the opening minute.

A solid defensive effort plus some poor execution in the final third kept the game goalless until Keane’s handball allowed Salah to score his 200th career league goal from the spot, adding his second from a rapid breakaway from Darwin Nunez deep into added time.

“It was the game we expected. The red card changed it a little bit but we had our game plan, we had to be very patient,” added Van Dijk.

“In these games when you score the 1-0 it changes the whole dynamic of the game.”

A fourth successive home win maintained Liverpool’s position in the top four and only a second Premier League clean sheet was another boost.

“Obviously we are still at the beginning of the season but there are very positive signs, very pleased we kept a clean sheet, won quite comfortably, didn’t give many chances away,” said Van Dijk.

“We shouldn’t panic anyways, we have the quality that whatever happens in the game, 1-0 down or in the last couple of minutes still 0-0, chasing for the winner, we have to be calm.

“That’s a sign of a great team because we have players that can make a difference.”

Virgil Van Dijk is excited by Liverpool’s blend of youth and experience and hopes it can propel them to success this season.

The Dutchman was named as the Reds’ new captain this summer following the departure of Jordan Henderson, who was among a number of long-serving players to leave Anfield.

This season has seen Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp blood young talents like 17-year-old winger Ben Doak and 20-year-old defender Jarell Quansah along with new signings Alexis Mac Allister, Dominik Szoboszlai and Ryan Gravenberch.

Van Dijk told the PA news agency: “I don’t see it as a challenge, things happen for a reason, players move on and new players come in, players get new roles and I think that’s a very exciting thing.

“Obviously the captain has changed, the vice-captain has changed, the leadership group has changed, the players have different responsibilities outside the pitch. I think everyone is enjoying their roles at the moment and the team spirit is very high.

“Everyone is realising that everyone has a role to play and, whether you start, if you’re on the bench or whether you come on, everyone is trying to make a difference. I think so far that’s really good and that’s the basis of success.

“I think the squad we have at the moment looks very exciting. We have the quality to make it difficult for every team in the world.”

Van Dijk enjoys helping guide the younger members of the squad, saying: “You feel a responsibility. I know exactly how I was when I came up the ranks when I was younger.

“It’s never easy and, as one of the older guys, one of the experienced guys, I want to help them where I can.

“Obviously you don’t need to hold their hands but you need to make sure they’re able to perform in the best way possible and I think so far everyone is really enjoying doing that and we have to just keep that level.”

The Reds certainly seem to have turned a corner after last season’s struggles, winning seven games in a row in all competitions prior to last weekend’s controversial loss to Tottenham.

Van Dijk admits it was initially tough to move on following Luis Diaz’s wrongly disallowed goal and red cards for Curtis Jones and Diogo Jota, but he said: “It’s part of life. Obviously it’s difficult but life gives you challenges so you have to deal with it.

“You definitely can take a lot of positive things out of that game. Obviously it’s quite difficult when you lose to see the positive things immediately and that was definitely a difficult period after the game but a couple of days later you realise and you analyse certain things.

“I was really proud to see how strong my team was as a unit. It’s something to build on and we will build on this and just keep going.”

Next up for Liverpool is an away trip on Sunday to Brighton, who will be looking for a response of their own after last weekend’s 6-1 hammering by Aston Villa.

“It’s not really about showing a reaction, it’s just trying to play the best game that you can do at that time,” said Van Dijk. “It’s the last game before the international break so we want to finish this part of the season well.

 

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“Obviously they had a difficult result the other day but I think they’re a very, very good team with a very good manager, a clear style of play and it’s always been difficult the games we’ve played against them over the last couple of years.

“It’s going to be tough but we have to be confident and try to do everything in our power to win the game. Obviously we have the quality to make it difficult for them and we have to show it.

“The main thing for us is to stay consistent. That’s the key to winning something. And obviously no injuries, and that’s what we try to avoid. I’m very happy with the start we had as a team.”

Van Dijk was speaking in his new role as an ambassador for McDonald’s Fun Football, the largest free grass-roots participation programme in the UK, which offers 250,000 children every year the opportunity to play for free.

“I’m so glad that I’m part of this whole campaign,” said the 32-year-old. “I just want to be an example for the kids. The last free football session I attended in the city centre of Liverpool I took my two eldest daughters with me and they had an amazing time.”

:: McDonald’s Fun Football offers girls and boys, aged 5-11, access to fun and inclusive coaching across the UK for free. Sign up now at mcdonalds.co.uk/football

Virgil van Dijk believes striker Darwin Nunez is starting to realise the potential which persuaded Liverpool to spend a possible club-record transfer fee on him.

The Uruguay international endured a testing start to life at Anfield and although he scored 16 goals, the feeling remained he had underperformed.

He has already played a significant part this season, scoring two late goals as a substitute to beat Newcastle, and with Mohamed Salah on the bench he took responsibility for equalising through a penalty in their eventual 3-1 Europa League victory over LASK in Austria.

Nunez has three goals and two assists this season but his all-round influence has been felt more than just from that contribution.

The Uruguayan, who had missed a couple of earlier chances but was denied a certain goal by a brilliant point-blank save by goalkeeper Tobias Lawal in the first half, also played a role in the second goal with his hold-up play on the halfway line.

Liverpool’s captain believes the 24-year-old is developing into the striker they hoped they were getting when they paid Benfica an initial £64million, which could rise to £85m, last summer.

“Everyone has a role to play whether you start or not. Everyone has now seen the potential and the quality he has.

“Against LASK Darwin was important with the goal. Long may it continue, and with the other boys as well.

“Up front, the competition is quite good. They all have to push each other and it’s good to see.”

One of those “other boys” – quite literally – was Ben Doak who became Liverpool’s fourth-youngest European player with his first start at the age of 17 years and 314 days.

The young Scot was given a run in Salah’s right-wing position and showed flashes of his talent despite being starved of opportunities in a poor first-half performance by the team.

“It was a big night for him,” added Van Dijk. “It was never going to be easy, it was a difficult pitch, but he could have set up at least two goals in the first half where he went past his man like no one was there but unfortunately nobody was on the end of it.

“I am pleased for him and I’m also very excited for him and the future that’s coming.

“You’ve seen in the last couple of weeks, if you watch closely it’s a fantastic group to be part of.

“We have a lot of quality, a lot of younger players, players who are getting new roles and they are enjoying that as well.

“But at the end of the day football is about results. Everybody wants to play their best football each and every game, but sometimes you have to find a way, like we did at Wolves (coming back from conceding first again to win 3-1).

“On Thursday it was after we conceded a set-piece, we showed that we stayed calm and found a way as well.”

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