Virgil Van Dijk

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In the Mixed Zone: Liverpool v. Man United

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LIVERPOOL — To make sure you have every angle covered for the marquee Premier League games, our new feature “In the Mixed Zone” will take you behind-the-scenes and into the tunnel areas to hear from the star players moments after their magic has decided games or drama has ensued.

[ MORE: 3 things we learned ]

The idea is to set the scene of being inside the tunnel area in Old Trafford, by the dugouts at Stamford Bridge and in the swanky new players area in Tottenham Hotspur’s stadium as Premier League stars walk out of the dressing room and break down the game with media members around the world.

We will tell you what they are saying and the kind of antics going on amid the hubbub of the mixed zone as players from both teams have their say on the 90-plus minutes of action we’ve just witnessed.

[ MORE: Rashford injury update

Here’s the scene from deep inside Anfield in the hour or so after the full time whistle blew between Liverpool and Manchester United as the Reds won 2-0 and now sit 16 points clear, with a game in hand, at the top of the Premier League table.

Safe to say one set of players were more keen to stop and chat with us than the other…


6:35 p.m. (local time): Mixed zone open as Virgil Van Dijk is shown on the TV screens speaking to Jamie Carragher preaching “one game at a time” for Liverpool’s title push. Come on, Virgil. Start picking your suit out for the big celebration in May. More from Virgil later on in the mixed zone as he stops to speak with Pro Soccer Talk…

6:42: A Liverpool legend is hanging around the press room. His assessment of the game and Liverpool’s dominance over Man United? “The perch is looking very strong again…” Liverpool’s 19th title, one short of United’s record 20, is in reach.

6:45: The pitch-side monitor for VAR is rolled out by one man, who is crouching over. Not used today, and only used once across the 229 Premier League games so far. What a lonely, lonely job setting up that equipment must be…

6:47: Okay, here come the lads. First up, a coupe of Brazilian midfielders are talking. Fred and Fabinho hug each other then speak to Brazilian TV. Fred has his match shirt in a bag, Fabinho has his suitcase on wheels with a No.3 luggage label on it. Fred’s sneakers have some fancy metals studs on the back of it. Fred was Man United’s best player.

6:52: Luke Shaw talking to our partners Sky Sports that United were just pleased to stay in the game until the final minute: “Very disappointed. We didn’t really deserve that – especially 2-0. When it was 1-0 it was really good. We had that chance with Anthony Martial. The lads gave it their all. We didn’t have many chances, but those that came we should have taken them. We know their qualities, and there were periods where we had to defend well. Last 30 minutes we controlled it. We didn’t take our chances and they took them. Van Dijk is a massive guy and threat for them on set-pieces. It’s disappointing for us. In the first half, over the past year – Liverpool have blown teams away in the first 20 minutes. We were still in the game until the 90th minute.”

6:55: “USA, USA!” Liverpool’s American owner John W. Henry and his wife Linda Pizzuti stroll past us and then disappear through a side door. More from them to come.

7:02: Man United’s players keep trudging through. Local lads Mason Greenwood, Jesse Lingard and Brandon Williams are all downbeat as they walk through. Aaron Wan-Bissaka is not far behind with his headphones on and hood up.

7:05: Hello. The referees now roll through. Craig Pawson looks like a deer in the headlights, which seems to be his default look. Fourth official Jon Moss looks far from delighted, which seems to be his default look.

7:06: Owner John W. Henry is back and he and his wife greet the assembled media. One journalists asks “How many games do you reckon, John?” in reference to how many games until Liverpool win the title. His response while wearing a wry smile: “There are 16 games left, right?” The billionaire from Illinois has played this game before…

7:09: Man United’s players are now coming through at a rapid rate as captain Harry Maguire gives it a simple “not today, mate” when asked for an interview.

7:15: Andy Robertson stops to speaks to us and during his interview Ole Gunnar Solskjaer walks out of the main press conference and pats him back. They then shake hands. Lot of mutual respect there.

As for Robertson on the game: “We had so many chances we could have put this game out of sight. A really good performance from us but luckily Mo just topped it off at the end and we could relax for 20 seconds! Today, looking back at the game there is room for big improvement. Some of the stuff we did was excellent. I thought our midfield three were different class today and ran the game and that was so important. We were a wee bit sloppy in possession, particularly me in the first half, a few of the balls went out. But we got the goal and I think the goal that got disallowed was a bit soft but that’s football. We started the second half really well, we had them pinned back and it looked like a matter of time until we got the goal. But when you don’t get the goal Man United start to get a bit of confidence from that and we should have killed them off in that moment, but we did in the end.”

7:17: Robertson asked about Liverpool edging closer to winning a first title in 30 years: “We are not getting carried away. Until the champions sign is above our head we don’t believe anything because, yeah, it is a comfortable lead, 16 points, but we know how tough this league is. We beat Man United and then we go away to Wolves who are flying and it is an incredibly tough game. We know in a couple of weeks the table can change. It is up to us to stay 100 percent focused and not allow that to happen.”

7:20: Brazilian TV sum up what Fred said to them earlier: “We should have taken our chances” was his assessment of Man United, who somehow hung in there until the 90th minute. To be fair, United did have one or two glorious chances.

7:23: Virgil van Dijk stops for a chat as we ask him about the fans finally chanting “We’re going to win the league!” and if he agrees with that sentiment. Safe to say VVD isn’t getting carried away.

Focusing on Liverpool’s display against Man United, was this about staying focused as they dominated but didn’t score a second until stoppage time?

“Obviously we want to score more goals. We had quite some opportunities to make it easier but in the end you need to find a way to win a game. We defended a little bit deeper at times because they kept pressing, they kept players up and you need to find a way and we did but we could have made it easier.”

As for his goal, the Dutchman towered above Man United’s Harry Maguire and Brandon Williams to head home the opener to set the tone for a dominant win. Did Liverpool target United on set pieces?

“Obviously every game we try to look at the set-pieces to score. We have players that can be very dangerous including myself but it is not always easy and today I think it was a perfect set-piece. We wanted to target the near post and I’m happy it was very important.”

7:28: James Milner and Adam Lallana then walk through in different directions with their kids. Lallana’s kid in full kit. Good effort. Maybe Lallana Jr. was almost on the bench for the FA Cup win against Everton a few weeks ago…

7:30: Okay, all of the players have gone home. Cameras are turned off. The Mixed Zone is closed.

Player Ratings from Liverpool 2-0 Manchester United

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Liverpool might’ve needed a stoppage time goal to put Manchester United away, but the Reds outclassed their rivals on Sunday at Anfield.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule

It was a righteous beatdown of the visitors, who were without Paul Pogba and Marcus Rashford but looked more like a relegated-threatened side than one of the most successful clubs in football history.

[ MORE: JPW’s Three Things ]


Liverpool

Alisson — 9 — One of the world’s best gets an extra point for assisting Mohamed Salah‘s insurance goal.

Andy Robertson — 7 — Typical strength from the hard-working Scot.

Joe Gomez — 7

Virgil Van Dijk — 8 — Scored the decisive goal and was almost imperious at the back.

Trent Alexander-Arnold — 7

Georginio Wijnaldum — 7

Jordan Henderson — 8 — One of his best days in the shirt, winning numerous tackles and deprived of a delightful goal by De Gea.

Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain (Out 66′) — 7

Sadio Mane (Out 83′) — 5 — If he’s anywhere near his average self, he has a first half hat trick.

Mohamed Salah — 7 — Tied for a match-high shots with Mane, but had more of an edge and found a deserved goal late.

Roberto Firmino (Out 83′) — 7 — A game-high six dribbles to go with plenty of industry.

Subs 

Adam Lallana (66′) — 7

Divock Origi (83′) — N/A

Fabinho (83′) — N/A


Manchester United

David De Gea — 7 — An incredible save on Jordan Henderson on a day he had so little help.

Luke Shaw (Off 87′) — 5

Harry Maguire — 4 — Tried to do too much in his first match as full-time United captain.

Victor Lindelof — 4

Aaron Wan-Bissaka — 6 — One of few standouts on the day, with loads of energy and few ready to meet his level.

Brandon Williams (Out 75′) — 6

Nemanja Matic — 6

Fred — 7 — One of the few United players to bring effort and sharpness, but his shooting was off. Only Van Dijk attempted more passes.

Andreas Pereira (Out 75′) — 3 — Don’t let his ability to produce an edge of your seat moment detract from 16-of-26 passing and dreadful inconsistency.

Daniel James — 5

Anthony Martial — 4 — Blazed a perfect chance to tie the match over the bar, and effort wasn’t there.

Subs 

Juan Mata (In 75′) — N/A

Mason Greenwood (In 75′) — N/A

Diogo Dalot (In 87′) — N/A

Three things learned: Liverpool v. Man United

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LIVERPOOL — The title procession continues for Liverpool as they beat Manchester United 2-0 at Anfield on Sunday.

Virgil Van Dijk‘s early header and Mohamed Salah‘s late goal was enough to make it 21 wins out of 22 for Jurgen Klopp‘s side who missed several glorious chances as Ole Gunnar Solskjaer‘s injury-hit United somehow hung in there.

For the first time this season Anfield sung loud and proud: “We’re going to win the league!” The Liverpool fans now realize this is as good as a done deal as it gets.

What did we learn from a tense clash as bitter rivals collided?


MAN UNITED HUMBLED BY BITTER RIVALS

Chants from Liverpool’s fans early in the game reminded their counterparts from Manchester United that they are the current Champions of Europe and the World. Nobody connected with United needed reminding of that after this utterly dominant display. How Liverpool didn’t win 5-0 is beyond me but United at least kept grinding away despite the obvious gulf in class between the two teams. Sadio Mane was denied by David De Gea, Liverpool had two goals chalked out by VAR, Henderson’s shot was pushed onto the post by de Gea and Salah missed a glorious chance. The manner in which Liverpool cut through United’s midfield like it wasn’t there and created chance after chance showcased just how far they’ve climbed ahead of their rivals.

United were without arguably their two best players in Paul Pogba and Marcus Rashford and they hung in there with a 5-4-1 formation which had Luke Shaw at center back and Brandon Williams and Aaron Wan-Bissaka providing the width. United played scared in the first half, like most teams do against Liverpool, but the sheer lack of control they had on the game until the final 20 minutes was astonishing. They only looked dangerous in attack when Liverpool gave the ball away and in two spells just before half time and in the final 10 minutes. United have a plan to get back among the Premier League’s elite but on this showing that is much further away from happening than we all thought. Man United have now failed to win on any of their last five trips to Anfield and even though they had a few moments where they showed promise in attack, the scoreline severely flattered them.


VAN DIJK’S DOMINANCE STILL SURPRISING

When Virgil van Dijk rose into the scarlet sky above Anfield to power home a header to make it 1-0 time seemed to stand still. As he so often does, VVD defied gravity as he hung longest in the air to beat Brandon Williams (a severe mismatch) and also Harry Maguire to score. Van Dijk’s dominance is somehow still surprising and awe-inspiring. It shouldn’t be. The man who finished only second to Lionel Messi in the Ballon d’Or voting led Liverpool to UEFA Champions League glory last season and since his arrival from Southampton in January 2018, Liverpool have become a totally different team. One which feeds off and now exudes the same confidence their silky Dutchman displays every single time he steps on the pitch. In tight situations he has held their defense together and he makes everybody around him better. They have now secured seven-straight shutouts with Joe Gomez alongside him as Joel Matip has been out injured.

If Liverpool, as expected, win the Premier League this season and make a deep UCL run, there’s no doubt Virgil van Dijk will be crowned the best player on the planet when all is said and done in 2020. His positioning is flawless, he is calm on the ball and he pushes on the team when they need it. When we look back on the success of this Liverpool team, the arrival of Virgil van Dijk will usurp that of Salah, Mane and Firmino.


TIME TO ORDER THE RED RIBBONS

Liverpool are 16 points clear at the top of the Premier League table with 16 games to go and they have a game in hand. They are going to win the title for the first time in over 30 years. We all know that, even if their fans and everybody around the club refuses to admit it. When the notion of winning the title was raised in the pubs around Anfield before the game, people were told to be quiet. But others are so confident they are predicting a title win after a win at Everton on March 14. Liverpool have lost just one Premier League game in their last 61, away at Man City last season, and they’ve now gone 39 games unbeaten.

There is just no way this Liverpool side will cough up the kind of points they need to in order to let their grasp on the title slip, plus they know Man City are out of form and out of luck with injuries, while Leicester City have totally come unstuck. If you are a Liverpool fan the final months of the season are about to be as much of a cakewalk to the title as possible and this brilliant, perfectly balanced, dynamic and devastating team will receive the guard of honor for the final two months of the 2019-20 campaign. Records will tumble, unbeaten runs will continue and Liverpool will win the title.

Liverpool rides past sloppy Manchester United

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Virgil Van Dijk and Mohamed Salah scored as Liverpool powered past Manchester United 2-0 at Anfield on Sunday.

Liverpool left the door open deep in stoppage time thanks to uncharacteristically poor finishing but controlled the match in increasing its table lead to 16 points with a match-in-hand.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

United stays on 34 points, five back of fourth-place Chelsea.

Marcus Rashford missed the match with a back injury, and reports say he could miss 2-3 months with a double stress fracture.


United was lively out of the gates, too much so in the case of an early Nemanja Matic yellow card for a high kick.

Van Dijk put the leaders ahead in the 15th minute, rising over Harry Maguire as the United back tussled with Joe Gomez.

Mane came close to making it 2-0 in the 24th, but an extra touch allowed Luke Shaw to clear for a corner.

Firmino had it 2-0 on the board, but Van Dijk fouled David De Gea before the play. De Gea received a yellow card for his remonstrations before VAR intervened.

Liverpool had a second goal wiped off the board when Wijnaldum was just offside on his run to slip a ball past De Gea.

Aaron Wan-Bissaka cued Andreas Pereira up for a back-post chance, but the sliding Brazilian couldn’t get anything on it.

Pereira then pumped a shot to Alisson from distance, good venom but an easy catch. De Gea then made a leg save on Mane at the other end.

[ MORE: Premier League stats ] 

Liverpool returned with vigor in the second half, Salah forcing a big save out of De Gea. Then the keeper pushed a Jordan Henderson smash off the goal post.

The hosts dominated, and rare United ventures like Fred‘s 57th-minute lash wide of the near post were well covered.

Anthony Martial worked a 1-2 with Pereira and viciously lashed over the far corner as United found another chance.

Mane missed wide when Wijnaldum cooked an over-aggressive Maguire with a midfield nutmeg.

There was a stoppage-time charge from United, but nothing came of it besides Salah’s long dribble to beat De Gea.

How will Liverpool, Man United line up?

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Liverpool host Manchester United this Sunday (Watch live, 11:30 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com) as the Premier League leaders welcome their bitter rivals to Anfield.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule

With Jurgen Klopp‘s side 14 points clear at the top of the table, Man United would love to play the role of spoilers and they are the only team to take points from Liverpool so far this season as they are in a battle for a top four finish. And, just leaving this here, Man United have only lost one of their last 11 Premier League games against Liverpool…

The big team news surrounding this game is whether or not Marcus Rashford will be fit after coming on as a sub in the FA Cup replay against Wolves, then injuring his back and having to come off 16 minutes later.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has a big decision to make as it is certainly not worth risking Rashford’s long-term fitness, even for a game as important as this one. With Paul Pogba and Scott McTominay injured, United’s midfield will likely be manned by Fred and Matic, with either Jesse Lingard or Andreas Pereira playing ahead of them and Mata starting in place of Rashford on the left. In defense it will be interesting to see if Brandon Williams gets the nod over Luke Shaw as he continues his impressive rise, while the rest of the back four picks itself.

The big worry for United is that if Rashford is out injured, they will lose a lot of their pace on the counter as their plan will likely be to sit back and look to hit Liverpool on the break. The gamble will then be whether or not it makes sense to play Mason Greenwood in attack to replace Rashford, with the teenager showing huge potential but an atmosphere like the one at Anfield may be too risky.

As for Klopp, things are very straightforward for him. Liverpool Joel Matip and Dejan Lovren back in training after their lengthy absences but it is unlikely the two center backs will start given Joe Gomez looks steady once again after a run of games alongside the silky brick wall that is Virgil Van Dijk. Oxlade-Chamberlain will play alongside Henderson and Wijnaldum in midfield with Keita and Milner out injured, while Fabinho is also back in training but is unlikely to be rushed back. The front three and full backs pick themselves.

Below we share our potential starting lineups for both teams for the intense battle at Anfield this Sunday.


LIVERPOOL (4-3-3)

—– Alisson —–

— Alexander-Arnold — Gomez — Van Dijk — Robertson —

—- Henderson —- Wijnaldum —- Chamberlain —-

—- Salah —- Firmino —- Mane —-


MAN UNITED (4-2-3-1)

—– De Gea —–

— Wan-Bissaka — Lindelof — Maguire — Williams —

—- Fred —- Matic —-

—- James —- Pereira —- Mata —-

—– Martial —–