Virgil van Dijk hopes to avoid a repeat of 2013 Camp Nou thrashing when Liverpool take on Messi's Barcelona
Recently-anointed PFA Player of the Year suffered a 6-1 defeat in Catalonia with Celtic five years ago: 'I saw some videos ... you can’t say you had a good game'
“I think this can be totally different than when I was there the last time,” said Virgil van Dijk. Liverpool must hope so. They go to Camp Nou for Wednesday's Champions League semi-final. Their talisman has been before.
“It is a nice stadium, a historic stadium and for me it was a great experience to play there. It was my first time, my only time and my last time so far so I am looking forward to playing them again,” Van Dijk elaborated.
It was December 2013 and the Champions League group stages when Van Dijk anchored the Celtic defence. They lost 6-1. Van Dijk nevertheless emerged with reputation enhanced. A montage of clips has emerged, showing him making a goal-line clearance, several brilliantly-timed last-ditch challenges and a few more vital interventions; but for him, Barcelona could have got double figures.
“I saw some videos as well but if you are losing 6-1, as a defender, you can’t say you had a good game,” Van Dijk countered. “The good thing for me personally was I took a lot of experience from that night.”
Just over five years later, his career has progressed at a remarkable rate. Then he was a few months into his Celtic career, a £2.6 million signing from Groningen who would not even make the Netherlands' 2014 World Cup squad. Now he captains his country and, at £75 million, is the costliest defender in footballing history.
His rise was reflected when he was presented with the PFA Player of the Year award on Sunday; if Van Dijk is the best footballer in England, he is in little doubt who the finest on the planet is. The Dutchman did not mention Lionel Messi by name; he did not need to. “I think he is the best player in the world, I have said that before,” he added.
It will be a first meeting for irresistible object and immovable force. A hamstring injury sidelined Messi in December 2013 – Neymar, with a hat-trick, took on the role of tormentor in chief – but, having scored his 598th Barcelona goal in Saturday’s title-clinching win over Levante, he is available now.
One of the stand-out statistics of Van Dijk’s remarkable season is that no one has dribbled past him in the Premier League. Messi has spent the most garlanded of careers jinking past defenders on solo runs of speed and skill. Van Dijk downplayed the suggestion that it boils down to him against Messi.
“You see how we play and how we defend,” he explained. “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 rest of Barcelona’s front three consists of the Liverpool alumni Luis Suarez and Philippe Coutinho, so they can testify that the Spanish champions have multiple threats.
“It is not only him, the whole team has a lot of quality,” Van Dijk added. “But we have also a very good team so we can compete there as well so it is not like we are going there for a holiday or something.”
Liverpool, who are unbeaten in their four previous trips to Camp Nou, are yet to lose a two-legged European tie under Jurgen Klopp and are looking to reach successive Champions League finals for the first time since 1985.
“Barcelona is one of the best teams in the world but anything can happen,” Van Dijk added. “It is going to be unbelievably tough. You need to be ready for problems and we will be and hopefully we can get a good result we can take with us back to Anfield.”
Updated: April 30, 2019 12:15 PM