Liverpool defender Virgil Van Dijk insists playing behind a new-look attacking midfield does not make his life more difficult.
Manager Jurgen Klopp opted for his previously-untried three of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Naby Keita alongside mainstay Fabinho and it paid off handsomely with the England midfielder scoring twice in a 4-1 Champions League win in Genk.
The performance was not without its issues, particularly in the first half, when the space either side and behind Fabinho saw the hosts create a few decent chances which a better side would probably have converted.
After being presented with a challenge by Manchester United’s tactics in Sunday’s 1-1 draw at Old Trafford, it meant Van Dijk and a defence missing 50 per cent of its regular starters were stretched until Oxlade-Chamberlain scored his second to make it 2-0 12 minutes into the second half.
Klopp’s offence-minded midfield combination is one which fans have been crying out for to inject some more creativity in the side – but did that make it more difficult for Van Dijk?
“I don’t think so. We still had Fabinho in front of us who cleans up everything,” said the Holland international.
“They left one or two strikers up front and we tried to get involved. That’s the way we play.
“We just have to do better at winning the second balls and in the transition with the counter-press.”
Ultimately the trade-off worked with Oxlade-Chamberlain scoring twice on his first Champions League appearance in 18 months after recovering from a serious knee injury in the semi-final of the competition in April 2018.
And it was an outcome which was hugely popular with team-mates and supporters alike.
“He’s worked so hard to get back to this point and he deserves a night like that,” said Van Dijk.
“He’s such a great guy, such an important guy for the group. He’s a quality player and he showed it, not only with his goals, but also with his all-round game.
“During a difficult period, he always managed to stay positive. We were all there for him.
“Pre-season was tough for him but he’s showing a lot of great things right now. He’s so sharp. His goals made the difference.
“The first one was so important and the second was a killer for them. It’s just great to see him back out there.”
Goalkeeper Alisson Becker, who is just back from his own 11-match absence with a calf injury, also paid tribute to the England international.
“It was special for everyone. We see him working hard on the training ground,” he told liverpoolfc.com.
“I worked with him in the last few weeks and in the international break we had training and he was enjoying the sessions.
“I’m really happy for him scoring like that, playing like that and helping the team. I think he is really happy, as am I.”
The Brazil goalkeeper is still waiting for his first clean sheet since returning to fitness after conceding against United and Genk.
He admits being sidelined was difficult for him but has worked hard to ensure there will hopefully be no more absences.
“It was a tough moment but I dealt well with it. I spent good time with my family; it’s not normal for us as football players,” he added.
“I tried to get the maximum from the time, I could make a good pre-season – at least three or four weeks of working hard after the recovery time.
“Now coming back in the Champions League and Premier League with the way the team is playing, I’m really happy to be back.
“I’ll try to do my best to stay here a long time and stay away from injuries.”
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