Van Dijk out to thwart Barca and a certain Lionel Messi…

Champions League Preview Liverpool

While Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp still doesn’t know whether or not the rampant Reds will collect any silverware this season, he does know he has the best defender in the league — arguably on the planet — in the shape of Virgil van Dijk.

The towering Dutch centre-back was named the PFA Players’ Player of the Year last night. But there is little doubt that the powerful defender would swap the prize for either the Premier League trophy or the Champions League silverware.

It is the latter in which he can have influence first when the Anfield giants go to Barcelona on Wednesday for a mouth-watering Champions League semi-final first left clash at Camp Nou.

Of course, with the abundance of supremely talent players and a certain Lionel Messi, the Catalans are favourites to go through to the final. But that is where Van Dijk would disagree. And Klopp knows he has a gem in the player he signed from Southampton in January 2018.

On winning the gong, Van Dijk said: “It’s pretty difficult to put it into words. I think it’s the highest honour you can get as a player — to be voted Player of the Year by players you play against every week. It’s special. I’m obviously very proud and honoured to win it. In the Premier League era, only two defenders have won the award. Does that make it even more special?

“It’s special, definitely. If you see the standard of strikers and playmakers we have in the league, it’s unbelievable. If you see the shortlist — what kind of quality there is — it’s very special that players in the league voted for me. I won’t take it for granted.”

And his German coach found time to send the Holland ace a message of support in between preparing his plans for the test against Barca. He told the club’s official website: “I’m really proud it’s the second time in a row I can speak about a wonderful player who won the award for Player of the Season: Virgil van Dijk. Who would have thought that when he started back in Holland? I think not everybody saw immediately what kind of player hides in this giant body.

“But now the whole world is aware of that and I’m really happy I can be a little bit around that development. I would love to think it’s because of me! But obviously it’s not, he was already the player he is now when we bought him from Southampton. It all worked out. From the first moment I was so excited about the opportunity to work together and now you are the man – at least for this season!”

And it wasn’t only Van Dijk who was honoured last night. Another three Reds aces were named in the PFA Premier League Team of the Year for 2018-19, with Trent Alexander-Arnold, Said Mane and Andy Robertson getting the nod.

Klopp says he has “exactly the same pride for Sadio, Robbo and Trent because we all know in the moment we have a pretty special group of players here together,” adding: “That all gave you the opportunity to play the season you played. You deserve the award, no doubt about that, but I think you agree there could have been three, four, five, six more players in the Team of the Year with a Liverpool shirt on.”

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