Soccer

Let’s enjoy the ride – Virgil van Dijk relishing roller-coaster title race

Liverpool’s victory against Burnley was not without its difficulties.

Liverpool captain Virgil van Dijk intends to enjoy the ride of the Premier League title race with Manchester City
Liverpool’s Virgil van Dijk Liverpool captain Virgil van Dijk intends to enjoy the ride of the Premier League title race with Manchester City (Tim Markland/PA)

Liverpool captain Virgil van Dijk insists they will “enjoy the ride” of challenging Manchester City in the Premier League title race.

Pep Guardiola’s side briefly went top of the table for the first time since November with their lunchtime win over Everton before a 3-1 victory over Burnley restored the Reds’ two-point lead.

The game against the Clarets was not without its difficulties and a record crowd of 59,896 endured some testing moments before second-half goals from Luis Diaz and Darwin Nunez eased the pressure.

Van Dijk accepts there will be a degree of nervousness attached to their bid to prevent City winning an unprecedented fourth title in a row just because of the sustained consistency of their rivals’ results come this time of year but he believes Liverpool, who are still fighting on four fronts, are well placed.

“I think everyone would love to be in this situation that you are on the top and fighting for the pinnacle which is winning the Premier League,” he said.

“It’s very difficult to stay calm. In the first half when Burnley became a couple of times dangerous you felt the crowd get a bit nervous but that is how a human being is.

“We need the fans, we need all the players, we need everyone to be ready in order to find a way to win the game.

“We will have setbacks, we will have moments of difficulty but we have to deal with that. Let’s just enjoy the ride.

“We are in a situation that I think last year around this time you would never, well maybe not never, have believed where we are today.

“We can only influence what we are doing. That’s the only thing.”

After suffering only their second defeat at Arsenal the previous weekend, Liverpool – missing goalkeeper Alisson Becker and Joe Gomez through illness, Ibrahima Konate through suspension and Mohamed Salah and Dominik Szobozslai through injury, a list which was added to by Trent Alexander-Arnold’s half-time withdrawal with a recurrence of a knee problem – struggled to find any rhythm.

Even when they took the lead on the half-hour mark when Diogo Jota nodded in from close range after Burnley goalkeeper James Trafford misjudged an Alexander-Arnold corner, they were still not in control and Dara O’Brien’s powerful header could have posed a problem but Diaz’s goal seven minutes after the break allowed them to settle more.

Alexander-Arnold’s replacement Harvey Elliott provided both the assists and, despite earlier in the season admitting he did not want to be a ‘super sub’, his contributions off the bench have arguably been more influential than his displays when starting.

“It’s very important for these guys that when they have their moments, Harvey in this case, they grab them with both hands. We need them,” added Van Dijk.

“Even if you start on the bench, you have to be ready to make an impact. This was a great example of that again.

“He (Elliott) would love to be playing week in, week out, but playing at the highest level you also have to be patient and don’t be frustrated that you don’t play as sometimes it is part of the business.”

A 17th defeat of the season left Burnley still seven points from safety but manager Vincent Kompany was remaining positive.

“There’s enough in our performances that can get us results and we aren’t debating the performances, it’s more just the moments and putting them together,” he said.

“We can’t feel sorry for ourselves, if we perform, we can get the results.”