Virgil van Dijk has said the challenge of silencing Lionel Messi in Barcelona holds no fear for Liverpool because a second Champions League semi-final in succession underlines the quality of Jürgen Klopp’s side.
The newly crowned PFA player of the year admits Liverpool must overcome one of the best teams in the world to reach the Champions League final for a second year running. In Messi, according to Van Dijk, they must also stop the finest talent on the planet. The Argentina international scored his 46th goal of the season against Levante on Saturday to secure Barcelona’s eighth La Liga title in 11 years and orchestrated Manchester United’s elimination in the quarter-finals. But Van Dijk is relishing the task that awaits at the Camp Nou on Wednesday.
“I think he is the best player in the world,” the Liverpool defender said. “But you see how we play and how we defend. We don’t defend one v one, we defend all together and we attack all together as well so we will see. We will be ready.
“The situation is that we are in the semi-final against Barcelona and we are going to face the best player in the world but it is not only him, the whole team has a lot of quality. We will prepare well and we have also a very good team so we can compete there. It is not like we are going there for a holiday.”
Liverpool have reached the final of each European competition they have played under Klopp, and Van Dijk insists another appearance in the last four of the Champions League is no surprise. Experience breeds confidence for the two legs against Ernesto Valverde’s side, he added.
The 27-year-old said: “I see what we have. I see the players we have, I see the management and the way we play football so it is not really a big surprise but you still have do it and we have to do it on Wednesday. It is going to be unbelievably tough because Barcelona are one of the best teams in the world but anything can happen. You need to be ready for problems and we will be. We are going to try everything to go through to the final.”
Van Dijk has played at the Camp Nou once, for Celtic in the 2013-14 group stage of the Champions League, and highlights of his impressive performance have been widely replayed on social media this week. The Netherlands captain has watched the compilation too, but admits a 6-1 defeat against a Barcelona side without Messi was a learning curve and not a fond memory.
He said: “I saw some videos as well but if you are losing 6-1 then, as a defender, you can’t say you had a good game. The good thing for me personally was I took a lot of experience from that night and that helped me … I think this can be totally different than when I was there last time.”