Twelve months ago Virgil van Dijk watched the Champions League final and could only dream, as a Southampton player, what it would be like to play in one.
A year on and the Netherlands international is about to find out, having helped Liverpool secure their first appearance in the showpiece event for 11 years — just four months after arriving at Anfield in a £75m (€84.8m) deal.
“I watched the Champions League final last year in Cardiff with a very good friend of mine. To be in the final now, it’s special,” said the Dutchman after booking a meeting with 12-time winners and defending champions Real Madrid in Kiev later this month.
“I was hoping for it but to be there just one year later, it’s amazing.
“I only joined in January but I saw a lot of games before that and it was clear how much quality the team had.
“We’re not going there to lose. We know we have a lot of quality and so they need to be wary of what we can do.
“We need to be wary of what they can do. We know that the last five years, they been the big winners (victorious on three in the last four years) and will have a lot of experience.
“We still have games to focus on in the Premier League (away at Chelsea and then home to Brighton) and then we’ll be ready for Kiev. We’ll be ready for it after the Brighton game though.”
Liverpool’s front three of Mohamed Salah, Roberto Firmino, and Sadio Mane have now scored 89 goals between them this season, with 31 coming in the Champions League.
Van Dijk believes they are a strikeforce to rival Real’s trio of all-time Champions League top scorer Cristiano Ronaldo, Karim Benzema, and Gareth Bale, who admittedly have not been as effective this season as previous years.
“I think they’re very, very good. Based on this season, based on the numbers, they definitely deserve to be in that bracket,” said the Dutchman.
“The other guys have been doing it for years and that’s maybe something for them (Salah, Firmino, and Mane) to do.”
Meanwhile, fellow defender Dejan Lovren believes Real should fear the Reds in the final
Jurgen Klopp’s side are the competition’s top scorers with 40 goals and Lovren thinks Real, who were pictured with T-shirts speculating about a potential 13th success after knocking out Bayern Munich, will be wary of their firepower.
“They are quite confident but we don’t care for that, we are focused on our job,” said the Croatia international.
“Why should we fear them? They should fear us.”
Team-mate Sadio Mane echoed those thoughts by stressing they are capable of taking on anyone and winning, as evidenced by their two victories over Pep Guardiola’s all-conquering Manchester City side in the quarter-final.
“We do have a lot of respect for Madrid, they are one of the best teams in the world, but we are Liverpool — we are strong, we can beat any team in the world,” he said. “We believe that so we believe we can go there and beat them. We know we are going to go there to fight — for the fans, for the club. Fight without fear — and win the final.
“We have the players. We can score goals, we have shown that, and there is nothing to be afraid of for us.”
Lovren also paid tribute to the huge impact Klopp has had since arriving at the club in October 2015. The German led the club to two finals in his first season but lost both to take his personal tally of unsuccessful showpiece events to five.
“He changed many things in the club, not just the players but things around the club, people, he has changed the mentality, how we think,” added Lovren. “Everything is more positive now. Even when we sometimes don’t play good he always finds something good and there is not negativity. He deserves this. It is not accidental that he already reached the final of the Champions League in 2013 with Borussia Dortmund. He has given the club pride back. Everyone feels that.”
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