EPL

Klopp backs Van Dijk as Liverpool defensive leader returns to scene of Goodison agony

By Sports Desk November 30, 2021

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."

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