Virgil van Dijk expects Liverpool’s new-found defensive solidity to be tested to the full by Manchester City, when the two reconvene at the Etihad Stadium on Tuesday night.
Jurgen Klopp’s electric forwards blitzed City with three goals inside 31 minutes at Anfield last week, leaving the Champions League quarter-final tie firmly in the Merseysiders’ hands.
But the £75m Dutchman also hands huge credit to players like Mo Salah, Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mane for the crucial clean sheet that he and his fellow defenders kept against the most potent attacking force in the Premier League.
“It’s amazing to have the threat from those forwards. But it’s not just attacking-wise that they do so much work, they also do it defensively,” says Van Dijk.
“Look at Bobby Firmino, for instance. It’s a nightmare to play against him for a defender because of the work he does.
“I can say that, because I played against him for Southampton at the beginning of the season.”
Van Dijk’s expensive arrival in January has coincided with an improvement in the side’s clean sheet record. But he refuses to link the two.
“I don’t take any personal credit for the fact we’ve kept more clean sheets recently,” he says. “We all do it together.
“It starts from the front. If we do it from the front then, obviously, we don’t need to be in much trouble at the back.
“Those attacking moments in the first leg were great, but it was how we reacted under pressure from City in the second half that makes me proud.
“We were struggling a bit, but everyone worked hard, kept together and made sure we had that clean sheet, which was so important.
“The fact City didn’t have a shot on target gives us a lot of satisfaction.
“In the quarter-finals, the key is not to concede, particularly at home. We knew that before the game. We knew they had a lot of quality and that we had to be tight.
“The atmosphere at Anfield was amazing. It gave us the extra push in the second half, particularly in the last 20 minutes, to keep going.
“It helped us to keep organising and keep clearing our lines.
“I was calm myself, because you need to enjoy nights like that.
“Apart from the City fans, everybody in the stadium wanted to help and we just embraced it and tried to take it to heart. When I was at Celtic, the Champions League atmosphere there was very similar. That was amazing as well.
“I don’t think people will say it is all over. Everybody knows how much quality City have, and you could see that in the second-half when they were pressing us.
“I don’t think it is a good idea to sit back on Tuesday and see what they are going to do. We just have to play our game and try to score goals.
“We need to be aware and ready for anything.”