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Liverpool defender Virgil van Dijk says the Reds’ showpiece showdown with Manchester City will be a “battle and a war on the pitch” when the whistle blows at the Etihad Stadium on Saturday.
The giant Dutch centre-half was discussing this weekend’s titanic clash and his possible head-to-head skirmishes with compatriot and close ally, Nathan Ake – though any friendships will be cast aside in Manchester for 90 minutes.
Van Dijk and Ake have formed a tight bond in recent years and both players featured in the same Netherlands backline during the recent international break, with the defenders starting for the Orange against both France and Gibraltar.
Van Dijk discusses friendship with Ake
Virgil van Dijk and Nathan Ake were paired together in defence in each of the Netherlands’ five World Cup fixtures in Qatar last year, and as near neighbours in England’s North West, their relationship has blossomed over the past while.
“I am very close with Nathan, also in everyday life,” said Van Dijk. “We live close to each other, our families get along very well and we see each other every week. Nat has been in a good flow all year but he is also modest.
“He is playing so well at the moment and is so important for our national team and Man City. He is achieving a very consistent level and people do not realise that is the hardest thing for a footballer to do.
“I am happy for him because I see what’s going on behind the scenes and how much he’s put in for it. On Saturday, he will probably be up against Mohamed Salah and hopefully we can get a good result.
“When the whistle blows, it’s battle and a war on the pitch. After that, we pick up the friendship again and there are more important things in life than football.”
🎙️“He plays so safe. Come on now, you’re so big and good. It is a positive criticism that we give. Isn’t he the best? Then show it.” 🇳🇱
-Marco van Basten and Ruud Gullit on Virgil van Dijk pic.twitter.com/lYh3cOxPSZ
— Football Talk (@FootballTalkHQ) March 28, 2023
City and Liverpool have different aspirations
In Saturday’s lunchtime kick-off, Ake and Manchester City need three points to put the pressure on Premier League leaders Arsenal, who currently hold an eight-point lead ahead of the defending champions at the division’s summit.
Liverpool meanwhile, need points of their own to strengthen their bid for a top-four finish. The Reds are seven points shy of Tottenham (4th) at present, though they face Man City, Chelsea and Arsenal in their last few games, which already looks like a potentially campaign-defining spell.
“We are now in two very different situations,” said Van Dijk
“Manchester City are fighting for the title and we hope to force Champions League football. With games against City, Chelsea and Arsenal, it will be an interesting week for us.”
“I am going to recover in the next few days and then the focus will be on City,”.
Van Dijk has started 22 of Liverpool’s 26 Premier League fixtures this season, though his performances haven’t always matched the high standards he has set for himself. The Dutchman turns 32 this summer and he is still ranked as one of the most expensive defenders of all time.
Van Dijk joined Liverpool from Southampton for nearly £80m in January 2018 and has won the Premier League, Champions League, FA Cup and Carabao Cup since.