Liverpool closed the gap on Premier League leaders Manchester City to nine points with a 3-1 victory at Crystal Palace on Sunday.

Jurgen Klopp's side recorded a remarkable 7-0 victory in this exact fixture last season and were soon in command as Virgil van Dijk and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain struck in the first half at Selhurst Park.

Palace deservedly pulled one back through Odsonne Edouard just after the break, but Fabinho sealed all three points from the penalty spot in the closing stages.

Victory saw Liverpool reduce City's lead at the summit after they were held by Southampton on Saturday, while the Reds still have a game in hand.

A deflected Jordan Henderson strike forced the first save of the contest from Vicente Guaita, but the Palace goalkeeper had no chance of stopping Van Dijk's thumping header from Andrew Robertson's out-swinging corner a minute later.
 
Liverpool doubled their lead just past the half-hour mark as Oxlade-Chamberlain brought down Robertson's inviting delivery and hammered home.
 
Alisson then denied Michael Olise as Palace looked to respond, while Jean-Phillipe Mateta saw his strike deflected wide after rounding the Brazil international.

Conor Gallagher headed a glorious point-blank chance wide immediately after the interval, before Alisson thwarted an inventive Edouard flick.

Palace eventually breached the Liverpool goal after 55 minutes when Mateta latched on to Jeffrey Schlupp's immense throughball and selflessly squared to Edouard for a tap-in.

Joachim Andersen fired narrowly wide moments after and Alisson had to race back to parry Olise's chip, as Liverpool negotiated a spell of sustained pressure.

Klopp's side secured all three points after a lengthy VAR check adjudged Guaita to have fouled Diogo Jota, with Fabinho converting from 12 yards.

Jurgen Klopp accepted Liverpool can have no complaints with their defeat to Leicester City and warned his players to learn from their below-par performance.

The Reds lost 1-0 at the King Power Stadium on Tuesday as they failed to close the six-point gap on Premier League leaders Manchester City.

Liverpool, beaten for just the second time in 28 games in all competitions this term, saw Mohamed Salah miss a penalty and Sadio Mane waste a big chance of his own at 0-0.

Former Everton player Ademola Lookman's strike three minutes after being brought off the bench proved the difference as Leicester made it successive league wins against Liverpool.

Klopp's side finished with an expected goals (xG) return of 2.3, compared to 0.6 for Leicester, who scored from their only attempt on target.

Yet Klopp conceded his side were lacking in too many departments to consider themselves hard done by in their final match of 2021.

"It was well deserved [for Leicester]," he told Amazon Prime. "It was a very strange game. We were just not good enough, even if we did still have enough chances. 

"What we did with the balls was just not right. We played a really bad game, so it was well deserved.

"Our decision-making [was poor], maybe a little bit of luck was missing. That's how it is. We should have had more of those moments. 

"I think we started okay, then we completely lost our rhythm and didn't get it back. From then we forced it, so there's nothing else to say. 

"The circumstances too – Leicester played two days ago, they deserve it, absolutely.

"They had one shot on target. They didn't have plenty of chances. We should have defended better. We do that usually, why we didn't do it today is hard to explain. 

"There were so many performances below normal level, there's no explanation."

It is the first time since 2016 that Liverpool have lost a league game in the month of December, ending a run of 35 such fixtures without defeat, 27 of which had been victories.

The Reds trail City by six points with 19 games of the season played and are level with Chelsea, who they face in their next match on Sunday.

"It's a big gap [to City]. In this moment it is not my problem," Klopp added. "If we play our normal football, Liverpool football, we have the chance to win more football games.

"A defeat is a defeat. We have to learn, and we will. The first thing is not to do it ever again like this. We lost our rhythm and weren't calm enough to get it back. That's our fault."

Salah's penalty miss ended a streak of 15 successful spot-kicks in the Premier League for the forward, with Kasper Schmeichel making a further three saves to thwart Liverpool.

Klopp's men had found the net in their previous 34 matches in all competitions, and defender Virgil van Dijk agreed that his side were not good enough on the day.

"I think they deserved the win but that was obviously also down to us," the Netherlands international told Amazon Prime. 

"I think we were poor in the last third. A lot of crosses they defended well. Overall, it was not a good performance. 

"They didn't create much but looked dangerous on the break, which they are good at. Credit to them. We have to look at ourselves and improve, which we will do. 

"It's part of football. We will keep trying until the very end. We created good chances but unfortunately today wasn't the day it went in the back of the net. 

"What can we say? We're in December. The season is so, so long. Anything can happen. You have seen it with COVID and injuries – lots of things can change. 

"There's no point looking at [Manchester City] or Chelsea or the other teams around us. We should look at our performance today and improve. 

"We all wanted to do better. That's a fact. We weren't good enough and they deserved the win." 

Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp confirmed Fabinho, Virgil van Dijk, Thiago and Curtis Jones are all out of their coronavirus-enforced isolation ahead of the trip to Leicester City.

The Reds called upon Thiago but were without the other three for the 3-1 victory over Newcastle on December 16 after the club announced the trio were isolating following suspected positive COVID-19 tests.

Thiago then returned a positive test before Liverpool's 2-2 draw at Tottenham three days later, with all four also missing the Reds' victory on penalties against Leicester in the Carabao Cup, prior to the postponement of their Boxing Day clash with Leeds United due to a coronavirus outbreak in Marcelo Biela's camp.

"The boys who had to isolate are back - Fab, Virg, Curtis and Thiago," Klopp told reporters as he provided an update at Monday's pre-match news conference. "Thiago trained yesterday with the team.

"We have one young player who is isolating and two staff members. We don't know which variant our guys get. We've seen our cases over the past two years. When you are vaccinated and boosted, you don't get symptoms."

Klopp added that his side were capable of facing Leeds on Sunday, though he understands the fixture had to be called off due to coronavirus issues coinciding with injury problems within Bielsa's squad.

However, the former Borussia Dortmund head coach again vented his scheduling concerns amid a chaotic festive period.

He continued: "The situation should not be like this. I say it every year. Playing on 26th [December] and 28th is not right. I say it because it's true. I think we can find solutions, it's not difficult. It would help players, even with no Covid.

"Is it the toughest [season]? I don't know. This time of year is always tough. I can say that. It's not a problem, it's what we're used to. We prepare for a long season and part of that is December/January."

The Reds boss expects another tough task against Leicester after the Foxes were outscored in a 6-3 thriller against leaders Manchester City, who Liverpool sit six points behind with a game in hand.

"Leicester are not in a good situation," Klopp said of Tuesday's opponents. "They have injuries. We went out for training when it was 4-0 [to City] and then I was told it was 4-3.

"Wow! They were obviously close. They are a good team and what Brendan [Rodgers] is doing is exceptional."

History favours Liverpool heading into their final clash of 2021, given the Reds have not lost their final league game in any of the last seven calendar years and have won three of their last four away top-flight games at the King Power Stadium.

Rodgers is likely to be without Timothy Castagne and Jonny Evans as the Foxes' defensive issues persist, having already conceded 63 goals in 39 Premier League games this year.

Liverpool have also been boosted by the news of a delayed departure for Sadio Mane, Mohamed Salah and Naby Keita, making them available for the visits to both Leicester on Tuesday and Chelsea on Sunday.

Liverpool will be without Virgil van Dijk, Fabinho and Curtis Jones for Thursday's Premier League clash with Newcastle United after they returned suspected positive COVID-19 tests.

The Reds revealed just over an hour before kick-off that defender Van Dijk will miss the match at Anfield along with midfielders Fabinho and Jones.

Ibrahima Konate partners Joel Matip at the heart of the Liverpool defence in the absence of Van Dijk.

Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, captain Jordan Henderson and Thiago Alcantara make up Jurgen Klopp's midfield, with forward Diogo Jota coming into the starting line-up.

Soaring numbers of coronavirus cases have led to further Premier League matches being postponed this weekend, with Everton's trip to Leicester City, West Ham's home game against Norwich City, Watford's match against Crystal Palace and Southampton's clash with Brentford off.

It was earlier announced that Manchester United will not face Brighton and Hove Albion on Saturday due to an outbreak in the Red Devils camp, while also led to their match at Brentford on Tuesday being postponed.

Leicester's home game against Tottenham on Thursday was also called off due to positive cases in the FA Cup holders' squad, while Burnley's home fixture with Watford could not be played on Tuesday.

The Premier League said in a statement: "The board assesses applications to postpone matches on a case-by-case basis, based on existing rules and COVID-19 postponement guidance issued to all clubs.

"It will assess a number of factors, including the ability of a club to field a team; the status, severity and potential impact of the COVID-19 outbreak at the club; and the ability of the players to safely prepare for and play the match.

"The board must also consider the wider risks to the opposition and other people the club representatives may come into contact with.

"With the health and wellbeing of all players and staff the priority, and in light of the recent rise in COVID-19 cases across the country, the Premier League has reintroduced emergency measures.

"These include protocols such as more frequent testing, wearing face coverings while indoors, observing social distancing and limiting treatment time."

Jurgen Klopp backed Virgil van Dijk to power through his return to Goodison Park with Liverpool but believes the Dutchman will have his emotions stirred.

Last season's Merseyside derby at Everton saw Van Dijk clattered early on by Jordan Pickford and hobble out of the game, suffering an anterior cruciate ligament injury that ended his season in October.

The Dutch defender was sorely missed as Liverpool's Premier League title defence collapsed amid a drastic set of injuries that left Klopp struggling to piece together a backline at times.

Now he has Van Dijk back and close to as good as ever, with Liverpool in great shape as they prepare to face Everton, who are under the instruction of former Reds boss Rafael Benitez.

When asked about Van Dijk ahead of Wednesday's tussle with their struggling neighbours, Klopp suggested it would be naive to expect no reaction.

"We're all human beings, so it's probably difficult to ignore something like that," Klopp said.

"It was a situation that should not happen in football and doesn't happen very often. I can't remember one since then in any other game.

"Virgil is very experienced, and he has these situations constantly since he's been back where he's in challenges and has to be completely free of all things he could have in his mind because of one issue in his past.

"So slightly more different [against Everton] because it's in the same place, but apart from that it's just a football game again."

Van Dijk has been an ever-present for Liverpool in their 13 Premier League games so far this season, and in that time he has been dribbled past only once by an opponent. No defender with 10 or more appearances has bettered that, and Klopp has been reassured by his increasingly imposing form.

"He came back brilliant. People are really quick if something's not exactly like it was before to say 'he's not the same anymore' and stuff like this, and this is of course not right," Klopp said. "These kind of judgements make absolutely no sense because everybody needs time to get back.

"He had a full pre-season which is absolutely helpful. His comeback was absolutely brilliant since he came back, it's been really good.

"If some things are not exactly as they have been, it's only a matter of time because of his quality, there's no doubt about that."

The Liverpool manager said his team would need "a cool head" for the likely raucous atmosphere awaiting them.

"We are still an emotional team, but you have to use the emotion in the right way and that's the plan for tomorrow absolutely," Klopp said.

Everton won 2-0 at Anfield in their last Premier League game against Liverpool, ending a 20-game winless run against them in the competition. Wednesday's hosts have not won back-to-back league Merseyside derbies since beating Liverpool in both meetings in the 1984-85 campaign, with Everton then on their way to winning the First Division title.

Eight of the last nine Premier League derbies at Everton have finished level, including each of the last four in a row.

Liverpool can break a long-standing record on Wednesday, which is one of numerous incentives. Klopp's team have scored at least twice in each of their last 17 games in all competitions, the joint-longest such run in history by an English top-flight side, level with Sunderland in 1927.

Benitez will be out to prevent that happening, but his Everton side are in free-fall having lost five of their last six games.

Former Liverpool managers have lost 13 of their last 14 Premier League games against the Reds, with Brendan Rodgers' Leicester City the exception, winning 3-1 in February, with Van Dijk by then on the injured list.

Klopp does not entertain the theory that form goes out of the window for a derby.

"I think previous form matters," he said. "Especially when it's good."

Diogo Jota scored twice in the first half as Liverpool romped to a comfortable 4-0 victory over Southampton at Anfield on Saturday.

The Portugal forward grabbed his first with less than two minutes played, turning Andy Robertson's low ball in before adding a second from close range after being set up by Mohamed Salah half an hour later.

Thiago Alcantara fired in a deflected third to give the Reds a commanding half-time lead before Virgil van Dijk steered a corner home to round off the scoring shortly after the restart.

The victory sees Liverpool keep the pressure up on league leaders Chelsea, moving to within a point of the Blues – although the Reds have played an extra game.

Liverpool got off to a flying start as Sadio Mane and Robertson combined on the left before the latter fizzed a low cross into the middle that Jota converted on the stretch.

A couple of chances fell Southampton's way after that, but Liverpool remained the side on top and doubled their lead in the 32nd minute as Salah squared for Jota to tap in his second after playing a neat one-two with Jordan Henderson on the right.

The Reds made it 3-0 just five minutes later as the ball fell to Thiago on the edge of the box and the midfielder advanced into the area before lashing a left-footed strike into the top-left corner via a hefty deflection off the knee of Lyanco.

Van Dijk extended Liverpool's advantage even further in the 52nd minute, volleying Trent Alexander-Arnold's corner under Alex McCarthy – who perhaps should have done better – and in.

Jota spurned a glorious chance to grab his hat-trick, diverting Robertson's cross wide of the target as Jurgen Klopp's men eased their way to the final whistle.

What does it mean? Reds put pressure on Chelsea

Liverpool's victory moves them to within one point of Thomas Tuchel's table-topping Chelsea side, with the Blues set for a heavyweight clash with Manchester United at Stamford Bridge on Sunday.

Salah races to Premier League goal involvement landmark

Salah has now been directly involved in 150 Premier League goals in his 171 games in the competition (108 goals, 42 assists) – only Alan Shearer (148 games) and Thierry Henry (163 games) reached as many goal involvements in fewer games than the Egypt star in the competition.

Salah has also been directly involved in 25 goals in all competitions this season (17 goals, eight assists), more than double the return of any other Premier League player.

Jota matches Wolves league tally

Jota has now scored 32 career Premier League goals, evenly split between Wolves and Liverpool (16 each).

He has reached the tally for the Reds in 36 fewer appearances, however (67 for Wolves, 31 for Liverpool) and with a better shot conversion rate (12.6 per cent with Wolves, 21.9 per cent with Liverpool).

What's next?

Liverpool's next fixture is a Merseyside derby with Everton at Goodison Park on Wednesday, while Southampton host Leicester City on the same day.

Louis van Gaal feared the Netherlands would blow their chance to secure automatic qualification for the 2022 World Cup.

The Netherlands wrapped up top spot in Group G on Tuesday after a cagey 2-0 victory over Norway thanks to late goals from Steven Bergwijn and Memphis Depay.

Netherlands head coach Van Gaal had suffered a fall from a bike and injured his hip ahead of the game so was forced to watch the match from the stands in a wheelchair.

Van Gaal cut a nervous figure as Danny Blind relayed his instructions via telephone on the touchline in a fixture played without any fans at De Kuip due to growing coronavirus cases.

Despite a tense game, the Netherlands got the job done as their stubborn defence – which has conceded just eight goals in qualifying – stood firm.

The Netherlands are now unbeaten in seven matches since Euro 2020, winning five times.

"The mood was a bit down the day after [the draw with] Montenegro, then I was afraid that it might go completely wrong," Van Gaal told NOS Journaal.

"But all in all it was a fantastic week despite everything. We got to know each other through lows and highs.

"We scored two goals today, and Jasper Cillessen kept a clean sheet. We dominated and controlled the game for 90 minutes. Norway may have had half a chance.

“I complimented the team at half-time, but also told them to play a little more forward.

"We played provocative pressing in the second half, which gave us a little more space. And of course we have the attackers for that."

Netherlands captain Virgil van Dijk made a team-high four clearances, two tackles and won 88.9 per cent of his duels as Norway failed to register a single shot on target.

The Liverpool defender spoke of his excitement at potentially playing at his first major international tournament, having missed out on the rescheduled Euro 2020 earlier this year through injury.

"We are going to Qatar and it's well deserved, we almost didn't give anything away. In my opinion, nothing at all," said Van Dijk.

"We had to show a reaction after last Saturday and we did. Of course there are many things that could be improved, but the result was the most important.

“I am extremely proud of this team. It can be tricky to play around with the idea that any mistake can be fatal, but we've embraced it. 

"We showed real character, it was not easy to switch quickly after the 2-2 in Montenegro, but we did it.

"I was very sorry that the national coach was there from a distance and the fans were not there at all. We're going to celebrate well inside. I can't wait for the World Cup."

Louis van Gaal feared the Netherlands would blow their chance to secure automatic qualification for the 2022 World Cup.

The Oranje wrapped up top spot in Group G on Tuesday after a cagey 2-0 victory over Norway thanks to late goals from Steven Bergwijn and Memphis Depay.

Head coach Van Gaal had suffered a fall from a bike and injured his hip ahead of the game so was forced to watch the match from the stands in a wheelchair.

He cut a nervous figure as Danny Blind relayed his instructions via telephone on the touchline in a fixture played without any fans at De Kuip.

Despite a tense game the Netherlands got the job done as their stubborn defence – which has conceded just eight goals in qualifying – stood firm.

The Netherlands are now unbeaten in seven matches since the European Championships, winning five times.

"The mood was a bit down the day after [the draw with] Montenegro, then I was afraid that it might go completely wrong," Van Gaal told NOS Journaal.

"But all in all it was a fantastic week despite everything. We got to know each other through lows and highs.

"We scored two goals today, and Jasper Cillessen kept a clean sheet. We dominated and controlled the game for 90 minutes. Norway may have had half a chance.

“I complimented the team at half-time, but also told them to play a little more forward.

"We played provocative pressing in the second half, which gave us a little more space. And of course we have the attackers for that."

Netherlands skipper Virgil van Dijk made a team high four clearances, two tackles and won 88.9 per cent of his duels as Norway failed to register a single shot on target.

The Liverpool defender spoke of his excitement at potentially playing at his first major international tournament, having missed out on the rescheduled. Euro 2020 earlier this year through injury.

"We are going to Qatar and it's well deserved, we almost didn't give anything away. In my opinion, nothing at all," said the Liverpool defender.

"We had to show a reaction after last Saturday and we did. Of course there are many things that could be improved, but the result was the most important.

“I am extremely proud of this team. It can be tricky to play around with the idea that any mistake can be fatal, but we've embraced it. 

"We showed real character, it was not easy to switch quickly after the 2-2 in Montenegro, but we did it.

"I was very sorry that the national coach was there from a distance and the fans were not there at all. We're going to celebrate well inside. I can't wait for the World Cup."

Netherlands head coach Louis van Gaal insisted his "brain still works" following a bike accident left him temporarily in a wheelchair.

Van Gaal suffered a hip injury after falling off his bicycle on Sunday and oversaw Monday's training session from a golf buggy ahead of the Netherlands' crucial World Cup qualifier against Norway.

The Netherlands require at least a draw from their Group G decider on Tuesday to clinch a berth at Qatar 2022.

Van Gaal, who will be able to coach his nation when the Netherlands and Norway clash in Rotterdam, was keen to stress his brain remains intact following the incident.

"Physically, I'm bad. But my brain still works," former Manchester United, Bayern Munich and Barcelona boss Van Gaal told reporters via video link.

Asked if it hurt a lot, Van Gaal replied: "Yes, a lot. That's why I'm in a wheelchair. That's why I led the training session from my buggy.

"Look, it's the lesser trochanter, that’s a bone, and that's broken. And the iliopsoas, that’s a muscle, is attached to that. That's a stabilising muscle. I hope you can all understand what I'm saying.

"I had to learn about every single bone in the human body when I used to study for gymnastics teacher. That comes in handy now."

"I can do everything, because my brain works. There are things I can use, such as that buggy and my wheelchair. I look stupid, I know that too," the 70-year-old added. "But coaching is verbal, and you use your brain to do so. And the presentation has to convince the squad."

Netherlands star Virgil van Dijk added: "It's just sad and unfortunate for him. He now has to recover the next weeks.

"It's a physical thing, luckily it's not mental. He is still focused on reaching the World Cup, like we all are."

The Netherlands missed the chance to seal qualification for the 2022 World Cup as Montenegro produced a late comeback to snatch a 2-2 draw on Saturday.

Memphis Depay had Group G leaders the Netherlands on track before Montenegro overturned the two-goal deficit.

The Netherlands will now look to clinch against a Norway side missing injured superstar Erling Haaland.

Van Gaal acknowledged Haaland's absence changes the dynamic of the fixture.

"Haaland has the quality to always show up behind a defence," Van Gaal said. "He also did so in their home game against us, three of four times. That were also their only chances.

"Now, they'll have to find another solution. At least, that's what they'll be trying to do. But Haaland has specific qualities that they'll miss now. We can, in principal, play a bit further from our own goal now too."

Virgil van Dijk was left fuming with a "scandalous" second-half performance after the Netherlands missed a chance to seal qualification for the World Cup when they drew 2-2 with Montenegro.

The Oranje knew a win at Podgorica City Stadium would seal top spot in Group G and their place in the tournament in Qatar next year following Norway's goalless draw with Latvia earlier in the day.

It appeared to be mission accomplished when Memphis Depay doubled their lead early in the second half, having opened the scoring from the penalty spot.

But Montenegro struck twice in the final eight minutes to stun Louis van Gaal's side, Ilija Vukotic rounding Justin Bijlow and slotting home before fellow substitute Nikola Vujnovic rose above Daley Blind to head home.

The Oranje go into what promises to be a tense final group game against third-placed Norway on Tuesday leading their opponents and Turkey by two points.

Captain Van Dijk offered a frank and scathing assessment of his side's collapse.

The Liverpool defender told NOS: "It is just scandalous how we played the second half. We all want to have the ball, we all want to play football, attack and score. 

"But we have to make sure that we also think defensively. Spaces were created for them on the counter. And if you don't have the organisation right... It's just awful."

Van Dijk says there can be no excuses for the group leaders failing to get the job done with a game to spare.

He added: "We just had to secure qualification here. With all due respect to Montenegro, but as the Netherlands you just have to win here.

"Especially if you are leading 2-0. Maybe it was a bit of laziness. We need to discuss that carefully. Now it just has to happen on Tuesday in an empty stadium.

"We are going to prepare well. We keep faith in our group and are going to give everything, we can't do more. But it should definitely be better than tonight."

The Netherlands had not let a 2-0 lead slip in a competitive game since a 2004 clash with the Czech Republic at Euro 2004.

Depay is the leading European scorer in this World Cup qualifying campaign with 13. The Barcelona forward has scored 37 times for his country, the joint-fourth highest along with Dennis Bergkamp and Arjen Robben.

Virgil van Dijk questioned the standard of refereeing during Liverpool's defeat to West Ham, claiming "no one knows exactly what is allowed".

The Reds saw their 25-game unbeaten run across all competitions – their joint-longest streak since joining the Football League in 1893 – come to end on Sunday.

Alisson, under pressure from Angelo Ogbonna, gifted the lead to the Hammers – who had not beaten Liverpool in 10 previous top-flight attempts – in contentious fashion before Trent Alexander-Arnold levelled for the hosts.

Pablo Fornals restored West Ham's lead and Kurt Zouma all but sealed victory when he headed home as Jurgen Klopp's team conceded twice from corners in a single Premier League game for the first time since August 2017.

Despite substitute Divock Origi's late goal, David Moyes' side managed to hold on for the win, but Van Dijk's focus post-match was on the officiating.

"Listen, the goal counts, it stands," Van Dijk responded to Sky Sports after the game.

"I don't know exactly what happens but I saw the whole time that Ali was being man-marked and stuff, so with the rules nowadays no one knows exactly what is allowed, yes or no, sometimes they give it and sometimes they don't and today counts.

"But what I said, there was nothing wrong. Even after that we still had almost the whole game to come back from it, but obviously we were disappointed to come 1-0 down."

Asked whether Liverpool could do more to protect Alisson from set-pieces, the centre-back responded: "Obviously you can’t because the striker in this case was standing next to him, so you can't push him away because they might give a penalty, so it's just on the officials to see if it’s a foul, yes or no.

"It could have been a foul but what can you do now after the game? You can't change it and what I said, we still had the whole game to come back."

While Van Dijk was left confused by the refereeing decisions, he conceded the Reds were not good enough as he implored for improvements after the international break.

"We played OK, I think in moments played well," he continued. We tried to find the spaces in between their lines and obviously they defend well.

"We had to be patient and scored the deserved equaliser, in my opinion, then second half we were a bit too rash maybe. We wanted maybe to score the 2-1 a bit too much.

"Obviously we just focus on the next game but now it’s the international break.

"Everyone is going away so it’s just making sure that you recover well, play well, play for your country and come back fresh and healthy and clear-minded for a very tough game against Arsenal. That's the only thing we can do."

Virgil van Dijk praised Justin Bijlow for his injury-time save against Latvia as the Netherlands scraped a 1-0 win in World Cup qualifying.

Davy Klaassen's volley after 19 minutes proved enough for Louis van Gaal's men to take all three points in Riga on Friday.

The Oranje were largely uninspiring, though, with 78 per cent of the possession yielding just four shots on target against a side who have won only three World Cup qualifiers since 2013. In their previous six qualifiers, they had averaged 11 attempts on target per game.

Latvia twice came close to an equaliser, the first just a minute after the goal when Van Dijk lost possession near halfway and Klaassen was forced into two blocks in the penalty area.

Then, in second-half stoppage time, Feyenoord goalkeeper Bijlow made a one-handed save to deny Igors Tarasovs after the visitors failed to clear a corner.

"It's a game everyone expects you to win," Van Dijk told NOS. "That's only normal, I think. Luckily, we did that.

"We created a lot of chances, and they had a few dangerous moments after our mistakes. But yes, it's three points. That's very important in terms of World Cup qualification. It's what we came for.

 

"We analysed Latvia well, and they're a team who don't give up. They keep running. It's not that they put you under a lot of pressure, but they play very opportunistically when they have the ball. We knew it wouldn't be over with a 1-0 lead.

"I think we had chances, but the second goal didn't come in the end. Then you have to do everything you can to keep the clean sheet and take the three points. We were successful in that, partly thanks to a good save by Justin at the end."

The victory allowed the Netherlands to move two points clear at the top of Group G after Norway drew 1-1 away to Turkey.

With their next match at home to Gibraltar, who have lost all seven of their games, Van Gaal's side could put themselves in a strong position to qualify for Qatar 2022.

"[The Norway draw] was a very favourable result for us, but we have to do things ourselves. It's in our own hands," said Van Dijk.

"On Monday, we have to take another three points against Gibraltar, hopefully with a great atmosphere in the stadium."

Ibrahima Konate wants to emulate the success of Virgil van Dijk, who he ranks as the best defender in the world.

Konate signed from RB Leipzig for a reported £36million (€42.5m) during the last transfer window and idolises Van Dijk, who played a key role as Liverpool captured their first top-flight title in 30 years during the 2019-20 season.

In that term, only Burnley's James Tarkowski (191) won more aerial duels than Van Dijk (191) and Jurgen Klopp's side struggled without the injured centre-back the next campaign as they failed to muster a worthy title defence.

The former Leipzig man boasts a similarly impressive aerial record. Out of the 742 defenders to play at least 20 games in Europe's top-five leagues since the start of the 2019-20 season, only Bruno Alves (81 per cent) posted a better aerial duel success rate than Konate (78).

However, after making his full debut against Crystal Palace last Saturday, Konate appreciates he has a long way to go to reach the levels of his defensive team-mate.

"I cannot compare with Virgil [van Dijk] because he showed to the world that he's the best defender in the world," Konate responded to Sky Sports when asked about the comparisons.

"Me? No. But I hope, with time, I will show this."

Frequently without Van Dijk, Joe Gomez and Joel Matip the previous season, Liverpool struggled and the arrival of Konate has now bolstered an already impressive backline.

And Klopp pinpointed his defence as a driving factor for if his side are to be successful once again.

"Ali[sson] in moments, could just make brilliant saves, it's not as though nobody had a shot on target against us," Klopp said on Friday.

"But as a unit, we defended so far pretty well. We said it before the season, nobody wanted to hear it, but we had three new players without buying them in Joel [Matip], Joe [Gomez] and Virgil [van Dijk]. We brought in Ibrahima [Konate].

"This year, we had time in pre-season to work on it, and you see that now. That doesn't mean in matchday 38 we'll still have only one goal conceded, but it means we are more stable at the moment.

"That's what we need to be successful. To be successful, you have to be consistent; if you are consistent, you have to defend well, because you cannot fly every day and score a lot of goals. You have to defend, you have to grind out results from time to time."

The Premier League table already looks to be taking shape, with a thrilling title race potentially in store.

And fantasy leagues are no different, with the best players quickly racking up early-season points to pull clear.

Want to avoid being left behind? Why not take a look at our Opta-powered picks for matchday five...

 

ALISSON (Liverpool v Crystal Palace)

Liverpool have started the season in fine form and Alisson has been central to their defensive solidarity, which has seen them keep three clean sheets in four games.

Since the start of last season, only Hugo Lloris (7.7) has prevented more goals than the Brazil goalkeeper (6.2) according to expected goals on target data, while only two can boast a better save percentage than his 74.2.

Crystal Palace may have cruised past Tottenham last time out but beating Alisson will provide a different challenge and the Liverpool man could be a guarantee for much-needed clean sheet points.

JAMES TARKOWSKI (Burnley v Arsenal)

Burnley are winless this term, but James Tarkowski remains a wonderful bargain option for your shaky backline.

While the Clarets may concede against Arsenal, Tarkowski offers returns at the other end of the pitch and boasts the highest xG (4.3) among Premier League defenders since the start of last term.

Only the more expensive Andrew Robertson, Joao Cancelo and Trent-Alexander Arnold have had more touches in the opposition box in that time period, too, meaning the centre-back could prove an alternate option on matchday five.

VIRGIL VAN DIJK (Liverpool v Crystal Palace)

From one end of the budget to the other, Virgil van Dijk may set you back but he has been the Premier League's most dangerous defender so far.

The centre-back has produced nine shots, with only Cancelo (13) and Alexander-Arnold (11) managing more opposition-box touches among defenders than Van Dijk's 11.

Given Liverpool look likely a good bet for a clean sheet as well – conceding only five goals in eight straight wins against Palace – Van Dijk could provide a perfect double threat despite the off-putting outlay for the Netherlands captain.

ABDOULAYE DOUCOURE (Aston Villa v  Everton)

Abdoulaye Doucoure may not be your typical fantasy midfielder in the ilk of Mohamed Salah, Bruno Fernandes or Paul Pogba.

However, the Everton midfielder is in fine form and provides a wonderful budget option, having been involved in four goals in his past four games in the competition for the Toffees.

Aston Villa have managed just two shutouts in their past 16, too, so Doucoure's box-to-box prowess could cause carnage once more at Villa Park.

PIERRE-EMERICK AUBAMEYANG (Burnley v  Arsenal)

Some fantasy players may have given up hope with Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, but he repaid the faith of those loyal to him with a goal against Norwich City last Saturday.

The Gabon forward, who many discounted after a poor last campaign, will be central to Mikel Arteta's revival and he has netted eight times in seven top-flight matches against Burnley.

Given Burnley have not kept a clean sheet in their past seven and Arsenal attempted 30 shots last time out, Aubameyang could provide more returns at Turf Moor.

SADIO MANE (Liverpool  v Crystal Palace)

Salah appears the obvious option as always for the visit of Crystal Palace; however, Sadio Mane offers an alternate differential at Anfield.

Liverpool have fired in 100 shots already this term – just the second side to register a century in their opening four Premier League games since 2003-04 – and Mane has accounted for 22 of those.

The Senegal star has also scored in each of his past eight against Palace, making him one of the best picks for matchday five.

DANNY INGS (Aston Villa v Everton)

Danny Ings has been a fantasy favourite from the start of the season but has not delivered as of yet with Aston Villa.

That could change against Everton, however, as the Toffees are his favourite opponent having scored five top-flight goals against them.

The omens are in Ings' favour, too, given he has managed to score against Everton with all three of his previous Premier League clubs – could he make it a fourth with Villa?

Jurgen Klopp confirmed Harvey Elliott suffered a horrific ankle injury in Liverpool's win over Leeds United, as Virgil van Dijk promised the youngster all of the club's support.

Elliott, who has made a bright start to the season for the Reds, suffered the injury in a challenge with Leeds defender Pascal Struijk midway through the second half at Elland Road on Sunday.

Liverpool were leading 2-0 at the time thanks to goals from Mohamed Salah and Fabinho, with Elliott receiving lengthy treatment on the pitch before being transferred to hospital.

Struijk, who got the ball with his sliding challenge, was given a straight red card by referee Craig Pawson, with Liverpool going on to cap off a fine performance with Sadio Mane adding a third late on.

Speaking to BBC Sport, Klopp said: "Harvey Elliott is in hospital, a bad ankle injury for sure. It looked like it was dislocated, the medical department put it back.

"Massive pain, shock for him, for us and we don't know more. We have to wait."

Klopp went onto the pitch and also talked animatedly to the fourth official while Elliott was receiving treatment, though he insisted he was unconcerned with whether Struijk would see red.

"I couldn't care less [if it was a red], it is not my business," he continued. "It is a serious injury, definitely for an 18-year-old boy. The red card is not important. Two or three weeks we can play on, Harvey will not.

"We played a really good game until Harvey had to go, the whole team was shocked and we lost rhythm. That is normal, human.

"We played as good as we can against Leeds. You have to be ready for brutal intensity. The crowd was there and an exciting football game with us as the deserved winner.

"I spoke to the boys afterwards, we have to speak a little bit about the football but Harvey overshadows it. I like intense football so I probably liked the game."

Klopp was also emotional in his interview with Sky Sports.

"Do I want such a young boy to have this experience in his career? No. We will play football without him, but we will wait for him as well because he is a top player," he said.

"I saw the situation. I could see his foot was not in the right place. That is why we were all shocked."

Last season, Liverpool's Van Dijk suffered a similarly serious injury when he sustained anterior cruciate ligament damage due to a challenge from Everton goalkeeper Jordan Pickford.

The injury kept Van Dijk out for the rest of the campaign as Liverpool relinquished the Premier League title they won for the first time in 2019-20.

"First and foremost all of our thoughts and prayers are going to Harvey, hopefully he recovers quickly and as good as possible from it," Van Dijk told Sky Sports.

"We have no idea of the diagnosis of it but obviously it looks bad. For the moment it happened I think you saw Mo [Salah] already shouting to the side that it was really serious, then you look at the reaction of Harvey, you know that it’s really serious."

Asked if his personal experience will mean he can provide support to Elliott, Van Dijk replied: "Yes, 100 per cent.

"I've experienced all the players, staff, everyone around Liverpool, the fans had my back and were there for me in difficult times too. I'm sure we will all be there for him and the club will be there for him no matter what."

Shortly after full time, Elliott posted a message to his official Instagram account.

"Thank you for all the messages guys," the post read. "Road to recovery. YNWA."

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