Virgil van Dijk has responded to glowing praise from Erling Haaland as the Borussia Dortmund hotshot repeated his view the Liverpool man was “the best”.
The Dutch centre-back is due to come up against Norway striker Haaland this week when he faces him in a World Cup qualifier.
It will not be the first time he has had to deal with the threat from the 21-year-old, whom he has faced twice previously when Haaland was playing for Red Bull Salzburg.
Haaland got on the scoresheet in their first encounter at Anfield, but gave van Dijk little to worry about otherwise, though has improved dramatically in the two years since.
Yet he knows he is in for a tough test when he battles with van Dijk on Wednesday, as he hailed the Netherlands star in the lead up to the Group G clash.
“I do not really fear anyone, I think he is the best defender. I think quite a few others in the room agree with me on that,” Haaland said. “He is fast, strong and f***ing smart, and there are three important things you must have.
“I have played against him twice, I have said that he is the best I have met. He is a good player, so we have to try to play around him.”
Haaland’s comments were repeated to van Dijk in a press conference on Tuesday, to which the smiling defender replied (via VG ): “Did he say that? It was kind of him.”
Much like how Haaland wants his team to keep the ball away from Netherlands’ colossal captain, the Oranje’s manager Louis van Gaal has a similar plan for Norway’s goal machine.
Pressed on how his team will set up for the fixture, van Gaal told reporters: “I do not want to share too much about how we should play. It could be good for Haaland.
“I hope we can block the passes to Haaland. Then the problem is solved.”
However, van Gaal was also confident that it would be his man, van Dijk, who would win the clash between the two, should his tactics not come off as planned.
Asked whether stopping the balls into Haaland was key, van Gaal replied: “Yes, but we also have very good defenders as you know. They can solve this problem.
“But the most important thing is that the breakthrough passes do not come or must be played under pressure.”
Stian Lysberg Solum/EPA-EFE/REX/Shutterstock)
Van Dijk is only just getting back into the swing of regular football after recovering from a serious knee injury which kept him out since October, including Euro 2020.
So far he has looked back to best for Liverpool, and recently penned a new long-term contract at the club.
He has been partnering Joel Matip in the Reds’ opening fixtures while Joe Gomez continues his comeback and new signing Ibrahima Konate settles in.
Liverpool have also moved to provide secure cover in the event of another injury crisis, by tying Nat Phillips down to a new four-year contract.
Phillips filled in superbly last season when van Dijk was sidelined but it was thought he would move on this summer following Konate’s arrival and the return to fitness of his team-mates.
Several clubs made enquiries but there were no formal bids for Phillips, as Liverpool eventually convinced him to commit to the club and provide competition as a fifth choice centre-back.
That allowed Liverpool to let youngster Rhys Williams go out on loan to Swansea to gain valuable first-team experience.
As for Haaland, talk is still very much focused on his future, with his £68million release clause at Dortmund coming into play from next summer.
Liverpool are believed to be among the clubs monitoring his situation as the striker’s agent Mino Raiola prepares to move his client on at the end of the season.
And while there is plenty still yet to be decided, Haaland has already been tipped as an ideal fit for the youngster.
Speaking earlier this month, Michael Rummenigge – the younger brother of former Bayern Munich chairman Karl-Heinz – told Sport 1 : “We’ll have to wait and see where he goes after this season.
“Real [Madrid] and Barcelona have financial problems, so I could imagine him moving to England. His father used to play there too. I could well imagine Liverpool for Haaland.”
Over to you, agent Virgil.