Virgil van Dijk insists Liverpool will not listen to suggestions they are favourites against Villarreal when the two sides meet in the Champions League semi-finals.
Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool defeated Benfica while Villarreal rallied past Bayern Munich to reach the final four and set up just the third meeting between the two teams in European competition.
The Reds will boast home advantage in the first leg on Wednesday, Villarreal having not managed victory in any of their past eight away games in England in all competitions since August 2005.
That last triumph on English soil was over fellow Merseysiders Everton, who Liverpool defeated 2-0 on Sunday to keep their Premier League title and quadruple hopes alive.
While Klopp’s team have impressed on all fronts this season, winning the EFL Cup and reaching the FA Cup final as well, Van Dijk warned that Unai Emery’s side will pose a threat.
“No, these are press debates that we prefer not to listen to,” he told Spanish outlet EFE when asked if Liverpool were favourites.
“We don’t listen if they tell us that we’re favourites or not. We will play on Wednesday as we try to play every game, that is, going out to try to win and, if we can, reach the final.
“Villarreal are a great team, with great fans and a great coach. We really want these two games to start now.
“It will be very difficult because Villarreal is a very difficult team. Obviously, I have seen the games against Bayern Munich and they are a fantastic team defensively.
“The players work hard, have a lot of experience and, above all, play like a collective. In this round only the best remain. There is no easy rival in a semi-final.
“We are aware of the difficulty of these games and these rivals. The return there in Spain is going to be very hard and we expect it to be very intense.”
Gerard Moreno has registered four assists in the Champions League this term, with only three players managing more. Indeed, since 2003-04, this is the joint-most by a Spanish player in their debut campaign in the competition, along with Gabi (2013-14) and Isaac Cuenca (2011-12).
Meanwhile, only Karim Benzema (15) has created more secondary chances – the pass played before the ball that sets up a shot or goal – than Dani Parejo (14), highlighting his influence in building Villarreal’s attacks, and Van Dijk pinpointed the dangerous pair.
“[Their] central defenders are incredible. Raul Albiol and Pau Torres. They are very experienced and fantastic,” the Netherlands international added.
“Then in the centre of the pitch they have the calm and the touch of Parejo and up top Gerard Moreno [if he is fit] is very fast and can surprise you.
“We already know a lot about [Arnaut] Danjuma from his time at Bournemouth. It’s going to be a very complicated match-up, but this is the Champions League semi-final. We knew it wasn’t going to be easy.”
Along with the talent on the pitch, Klopp will also face off against Emery, who has progressed from 84 per cent of his Europa League and Champions League knockout ties (31/37) since the start of the 2009-10 season.
Only former Real Madrid coach Zinedine Zidane (14/16 – 88 per cent) boasts a better win rate in that period among managers to take charge of at least 10 games, and Klopp will be looking to make amends after Emery’s Sevilla beat Klopp’s Liverpool 3-1 in the 2016 Europa League final.