Will Virgil van Dijk help halt Pep Guardiola’s runaway leaders?
When Jurgen Klopp and his Liverpool team made the 35-mile journey west to the Etihad Stadium in September, they were due to be the first true test for Pep Guardiola'™s Manchester City.Â Keep up with this story and more by subscribing nowKlopp'™s team had begun the season so well, with the signing of Mohamed Salah already appearing to be a fine piece of business as the warm evenings began to close in. Philippe Coutinho, still a Liverpool player at the time, was almost redundant'”Salah, Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mane were a strong enough force even without him.Â Liverpool traveled to City on the back of a 4-0 demolition of Arsenal, already being pipped as one of the strong title contenders. Instead, they left the Etihad Stadium with a whimper. The visiting fans could look to the sending off of Mane as a reason for the 5-0 humbling at the hands of City, but Liverpool were outclassed for the entire 90 minutes. They were dominated in possession and managed just three shots all game.Â Much of their woes at the Etihad Stadium'”and elsewhere over the past couple of years'”has been down to an inability in defense. But should the same happen again on Saturday, there can be no excuses from Klopp after his team spent Â£75 million on Dutch center back Virgil van Dijk.Â Klopp has been smart in easing Van Dijk, signed from Southampton, into his back line. The 26-year-old made his first start for Liverpool on Friday, in the FA Cup third round tie against Merseyside rivals EvertonVan Dijk brought an assured presence to the center of Liverpool'™s defense, a vocal figure at the back organizing the team as it was set out. His debut went even better than anyone could have imagined, andÂ he scored a late winner to see Liverpool progress to the next round.Â Liverpool will, once again, go into Sunday'™s game with renewed optimism. While Coutinho may have left for Barcelona, Liverpool'™s attack is still lethal with Salah, Mane and Firmino. Against City, though, it is the defense that will need to be resolute. In Van Dijk, Klopp and Liverpool think they have that now.Â