Liverpool star Virgil van Dijk labelled Barcelona great Lionel Messi his toughest opponent.

Van Dijk and Messi went head-to-head last season, when Liverpool produced an incredible second-leg comeback to beat Barcelona in the Champions League semi-finals.

The Netherlands international paid tribute to Messi, a record six-time Ballon d'Or winner who is regarded as one of the greatest players of all-time.

"There are some difficult strikers out there, but probably Leo Messi," Van Dijk wrote on Twitter when asked who his toughest opponent was.

However, Van Dijk also credited Sergio Aguero, having faced the Manchester City forward regularly in recent seasons.

Asked who the hardest player to mark was, the defender replied: "Aguero."

Van Dijk said he was "feeling fine" and would be ready to go when the Premier League season, which is suspended due to the coronavirus pandemic, resumes.

Liverpool held a 25-point lead atop the table when the season was stopped.

Virgil van Dijk slammed Liverpool's doubters after the critics came out in force following a run of three defeats in four matches.

The losses have come in three different competitions, putting Jurgen Klopp's side on the back foot in the last 16 of the Champions League, halting their 44-match unbeaten streak in the Premier League, and ending their FA Cup participation. 

A 2-0 reverse at Stamford Bridge on Tuesday left the top-flight title as the only domestic honour available to the Reds, which Van Dijk pointedly suggested is no small thing.

"In life there are people who are never satisfied. They are always looking for negative things. That's the reality," he said, as quoted by the Daily Mirror. 

"Either you go on with that negative spirit or you just focus on the good things – and I'm definitely focusing on the good things.

"We are in a very good situation. Close to what we all hope to achieve. Let's just go for it, enjoy it. Let's focus on 'just' the Premier League, because it's very small, huh?"

Responding to the notion that Liverpool had not been that bothered about winning the FA Cup, particularly in light of playing a reserve team in the fourth-round replay against Shrewsbury Town, Van Dijk was emphatic.

"That's stupid to say, in my opinion," said the Dutchman. "Every competition we play in, we want to win.

"We showed that against Chelsea with the line-up and the way we kept going, the energy we put in. We tried to do as much as possible to win the game."

Virgil van Dijk branded Liverpool's performance in Saturday's shock 3-0 defeat to Watford as "unacceptable" as their 44-match unbeaten run in the Premier League came to an abrupt end.

The Reds went to Vicarage Road on the back of 18 successive league wins, one short of setting a new record, but they were nowhere near their best as Watford ran out deserved winners.

Ismaila Sarr was the star of the show, scoring Watford's first two and then teeing up Troy Deeney for the clincher 17 minutes from time, all three goals coming after the lively Gerard Deulofeu was forced off with a potentially serious knee injury.

Liverpool rarely threatened Ben Foster's goal and Van Dijk accepts the Reds simply were not good enough, with the Dutchman particularly critical of the manner of the loss.

"If you concede three goals – that's something we didn't do for quite a while – obviously we have to improve as a team in total, and we will," Van Dijk told Sky Sports.

"It's tough to take this one. I think the only positive is we have an FA Cup game [against Chelsea] in just a couple of days.

"In our last game, [we conceded] one set-piece, one good goal. Today [Saturday] it should be better, that is clear, but if you look at whole season we've been good defensively, I think we've the most clean sheets in the league.

"But we know there's room for improvement. That's the good thing about our mentality, we won't walk away from this either, we have to improve, do better.

"It's unacceptable that we lose here 3-0, in this way as well. The whole season we didn't lose a game like this, I think they did very well, but we should've done better. We want to strike back, and we will."

Defeat means Liverpool will be unable to go the entire season unbeaten, though Van Dijk insists such situations never went through the players' minds anyway.

When asked if the defeat or missing out on an 'invincible' season hurts most, Van Dijk said: "Losing hurts, the records are only for the media and everyone who is talking about it.

"We didn't mention it once. We keep going, we want to win our next match in the FA Cup, then we have Bournemouth at home and we want to strike back, show what we've been doing the whole season and that's the only way forward."

Despite the loss, Liverpool remain 22 points clear of Manchester City at the summit.

Virgil van Dijk put Liverpool's 1-0 Champions League loss to Atletico Madrid down to bad luck and warned the Spanish club there is still another 90 minutes of the last-16 tie to play.

Saul Niguez's early strike in Tuesday's Champions League clash gave Atletico a slender lead to take into the return fixture against holders Liverpool at Anfield on March 11.

Saul poked home from close range with four minutes played after a corner fell kindly into his path and Diego Simeone's Atletico kept their advantage intact in Madrid.

Reigning champions Liverpool dominated possession in the Spanish capital but failed to register a single attempt on target, with Mohamed Salah and Jordan Henderson squandering their best chances.

Despite the defeat at the Wanda Metropolitano, however, defender Van Dijk is remaining upbeat ahead of the second leg in a little over three weeks' time.

"We conceded the goal from the corner, first chance for them, not even a chance. Bit of luck," he told BT Sport.

"The message at half-time was to keep playing. We had the ball most of the game but unfortunately could not create massive opportunities. We still have another 90 minutes to set it right.

"It is the way they play. It is a bit of the Spanish football as well and you have to adapt but we knew it and I feel we handled it pretty well."

Echoing his team-mate's views, full-back Andy Robertson felt the wild celebrations in the stands at full-time were premature given Liverpool's impressive home record.

"We put in a decent performance and we know we can be better. We've got a second leg to put it right," Robertson said.

"They celebrated as if they won the tie after the game. They are coming to Anfield and we know our fans will be there.

"We gave them the best possible start and that get the fans behind them and then they start falling over and getting under the skin a bit."

Virgil van Dijk is the key reason Liverpool have surpassed Manchester City in the Premier League pecking order, according to Ruud Gullit.

Netherlands international Van Dijk has been an inspiration for the Reds since joining them from Southampton for a reported £75million in January 2018.

He helped Liverpool to Champions League success last season and the club now lead champions City by 25 points in an extraordinary top-flight campaign, with the defender an ever-present in their 26 matches.

His compatriot Gullit, speaking ahead of the Laureus World Sports Awards, believes the crucial aspect has been Van Dijk's play, coupled with City's struggles to find a reliable defensive option.

"In order to win, all the best teams have a good defence," Gullit said to Omnisport. 

"At Barcelona, with Carles Puyol at the back, they had a good defence. 

"If you don't have that then you can attack all you like but you're always conceding a lot of goals. 

"Pep Guardiola bought four central defenders and they couldn't do it. That was unlucky also with injuries but it is a stable factor to have defenders that can do the things that you need to do.

"A lot of teams don't defend well. So, with Van Dijk, that was an issue that was done [solved]."

He added: "Van Dijk was an example that I was right in Holland. If I say you have to learn how to defend people say, 'You're always with the defending' and things like that.

"But that's where it all started. Now they say you're right, [you can have success] if you have a good defender, and the good thing is it was a Dutch defender." 

Liverpool are away to Atletico Madrid on Tuesday in the first leg of their Champions League last-16 tie after their 1-0 away win at Norwich City last time out.

Manchester United or Chelsea?

The two Premier League giants are reportedly going head-to-head in the race to sign Borussia Dortmund teenager and England international Jadon Sancho.

And the Manchester club feel they can prise the 19-year-old to Old Trafford.

 

TOP STORY – UNITED BELIEVE THEY CAN PIP CHELSEA TO SANCHO

Manchester United are confident they will beat rivals Chelsea to the signing of in-demand Borussia Dortmund star Jadon Sancho, claims The Mirror.

Sancho is reportedly keen on returning to England, where the 19-year-old played for Manchester City's youth team before joining Bundesliga outfit Dortmund in 2017.

Dortmund are apparently willing to offload Sancho at the right price and Premier League giants United believe they can prise the England international to Old Trafford in a deal worth £120million (€142.5m).

 

ROUND-UP

- Will Mauricio Pochettino land at Old Trafford? According to journalist Duncan Castles, the former Tottenham manager is determined to take charge of United . His representatives are reportedly confident of convincing United's hierarchy that Pochettino is the right man for the job as Ole Gunnar Solskjaer struggles, with the Red Devils eighth in the Premier League.

- The Sun reports United are set for a double swoop to sign Aston Villa star Jack Grealish and Leicester City attacker James Maddison . Grealish has reportedly given the go-ahead for a move to Old Trafford, while Maddison has apparently been in talks over a contract extension with Leicester.

Marcelo Brozovic to Real Madrid? Mundo Deportivo says the Inter and Croatia international midfielder is wanted by the LaLiga giants. Madrid have also been linked to United's Paul Pogba and Ajax star Donny van de Beek

Barcelona have been told it will take €35m to sign Willian Jose from Real Sociedad, reports Marca. Barca are looking to strengthen their attack following long-term injuries to Ousmane Dembele and Luis Suarez.

- According to The Express, Tottenham boss Jose Mourinho is plotting a £120m transfer spree at the end of the season. Benfica defender Ruben Dias is a target, as well as Norwich City's Max Aarons, Bournemouth centre-back Nathan Ake and Leicester full-back Ben Chilwell.

Stefano Pioli is contracted to Milan until 2021 but the head coach – who replaced Marco Giampaolo at the start of the campaign – is no certainty to continue beyond this season. According to Calciomercato, Elliott Management want Ralf Rangnick but Paolo Maldini is reportedly pushing for former Milan striker and current Ukraine boss Andriy Shevchenko.

- Football Insider claims Liverpool are set to offer star defender Virgil van Dijk a new £50m deal amid reported interest from Serie A champions Juventus.

Liverpool might be cruising towards the title but the runaway Premier League leaders could still face a crucial fight in the near future.

According to a new report, star centre-back Virgil van Dijk has become a top target for Italian giants Juventus.

Could a record-breaking transfer to Turin appeal to the Netherlands international?

 

TOP STORY – JUVE SET SIGHTS ON VAN DIJK

Maurizio Sarri's Juve have identified Reds defender Van Dijk as the man to help achieve their Champions League dream, according to The Sun.

The Bianconeri are said to be preparing a €178.5million (£150m) offer that could force Liverpool to consider parting company with the 28-year-old, who swapped Southampton for Merseyside in a £75m move in January 2018.

The report claims Van Dijk "may be open to a move abroad" if he wins the Premier League this term, which now appears a mere formality.

The proposed fee would eclipse the £80m that saw Harry Maguire leave Leicester City for Manchester United and again make Van Dijk the world's most expensive player in his position.

 

ROUND-UP 

- After signing Maguire, the Red Devils appear to be pining for another expensive defender. The Daily Star suggests the club will ramp up their attempts to capture Kalidou Koulibaly in the close season - although the Napoli centre-back could cost up to £90m.

- Arsenal rejected a deadline-day approach for Mesut Ozil from an unnamed Qatar club, the Mirror states. Ozil, 31, reportedly "would have been willing to listen" to an offer, but the contact came too late for the Gunners to arrange a replacement.

- LaLiga leaders Real Madrid considered signing teenage attacker Amine Gouiri and contacted Lyon before deciding against lodging a formal January bid, according to L'Equipe.

- Their title rivals Barcelona are close to agreeing a deal that will see Chelsea winger Willian arrive on a free at season's end, reports Marca.

- Gouiri is not the only Lyon youngster attracting interest. Milan, already planning for next season, are monitoring the Ligue 1 club's promising right-back Pierre Kalulu, claims CalcioMercato.

Virgil van Dijk insisted Liverpool did not feel unbeatable despite their incredible run in the Premier League.

Liverpool secured their 22nd win in 23 league games this season by edging Wolves 2-1 in a tight contest on Thursday.

But Van Dijk warned his side there was still work to do despite their 16-point advantage atop the table.

"You never feel unbeatable – it is not a feeling that we have," the star centre-back told UK media.

"Anything can happen. There were moments against Wolves when things could have been different.

"They could have scored a second. We always feel we have to keep working hard.

"We just try to keep improving. Things are going good at the moment and everyone is in a good situation."

Van Dijk is enjoying another stellar campaign for Liverpool, with his partnership alongside Joe Gomez in the centre of defence a key.

Gomez was involved in an altercation with England team-mate Raheem Sterling in November and Van Dijk said he spoke to the 22-year-old to offer his support.

"Of course I talked with Joe and tried to help," Van Dijk said.

"That incident wasn't his fault. I spoke to him about it at the time and he came through that.

"I've been so impressed by Joe. We all saw last season, before he got injured, how good he is and how good he can be.

"He's someone I get on very well with — on and off the pitch. That helps, of course."

Liverpool visit Shrewsbury Town in the FA Cup fourth round on Sunday.

Virgil van Dijk, Kylian Mbappe and Erling Haaland are the headline inclusions in FIFA Ultimate Team's latest Team of the Week, which contains a plethora of superstars.

Liverpool defender Van Dijk played a vital role as Liverpool beat bitter rivals Manchester United 2-0 on Sunday, scoring the opening goal and producing a generally commanding display at centre-back.

Paris Saint-Germain talent Mbappe leads the line following his brace against former employers Monaco in last week's 4-1 win, taking his Ligue 1 goal tally to 13 for the season.

The Frenchman is joined in attack by Haaland, who enjoyed a stunning debut for Borussia Dortmund.

Haaland came on in the 56th minute with Dortmund 3-1 down, but he went on to score a hat-trick and inspire a turnaround which saw Lucien Favre's side win 5-3 at Augsburg.

That trio are by no means the only big-name players with new in-form cards set to be available – below, we have the full squad.

TEAM OF THE WEEK

GK: Nick Pope (Burnley) – 82

RB: Damian Suarez (Getafe) – 82

CB: Dayot Upamecano (RB Leipzig) – 81

CB: Virgil van Dijk (Liverpool) – 92

CM: Lucas Leiva (Lazio) – 86

CM: Casemiro (Real Madrid) – 88

CDM: Thiago Alcantara (Bayern Munich) – 88

CM: Sergio Canales (Real Betis) – 87

ST: Raul Jimenez (Wolves) – 85

ST: Kylian Mbappe (PSG) – 92

ST: Erling Haaland (Borussia Dortmund) – 86

SUBSTITUTES

GK: Matheus (Sporting Braga) – 81

CB: Ciaran Clark (Newcastle United) – 81

RM: Edin Visca (Istanbul Basaksehir) – 86

CAM: Hans Vanaken (Club Brugge) – 83

LM: Ante Rebic (Milan) – 83

ST: Michael Gregoritsch (Schalke) – 82

ST: Jhon Cordoba (Cologne) – 81

RESERVES

CB: Esteban Burgos (Eibar) – 78

RM: Chiedozie Ogbene (Rotherham United) – 72

ST: Alexander Sorloth (Trabzonspor) – 79

ST: Ante Budimir (Real Mallorca) – 79

ST: Ernesto Torregrossa (Brescia) – 78

Dreams of Premier League glory began to feel like an inevitability at Anfield as Liverpool beat Manchester United on a weekend that saw Leicester City, Chelsea and Manchester City drop points.

Jurgen Klopp's side dispatched their old rivals with goals from Virgil van Dijk and Mohamed Salah, leaving Reds supporters full of confidence after Burnley came from behind to beat third-placed Leicester 2-1 at Turf Moor.

There was a surprise result at St. James' Park on Saturday, Frank Lampard's Chelsea dominating for long periods against Newcastle United but succumbing to a late Isaac Hayden goal in a 1-0 defeat.

There were late goals at the Etihad Stadium, where Sergio Aguero thought he had won it with a brace, only for Fernandinho to put through his own net in a 2-2 draw with Crystal Palace.

The weekend's Opta data offers detailed insights into the stories behind those results, as well as Wolves' dramatic 3-2 comeback victory over Southampton at St. Mary's.

 

ANFIELD FULL OF HOPE AFTER BACK-TO-BACK HOME WINS OVER UNITED

They are no longer saying it quietly: Liverpool fans firmly believe the title is theirs after watching their side beat United on Sunday.

The victory marked the first time Liverpool have claimed consecutive home Premier League wins over the Red Devils since winning three in a row between September 2008 and March 2011 and there was an air of invulnerability around Anfield at the final whistle.

Liverpool have taken 91 points from a possible 93 in their last 31 Premier League matches, winning 30 and drawing just one, while United have now lost nine of their last 16 top-flight away games (W3 D4 L9).

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's men have failed to score in eight of those games and they gave Liverpool goalkeeper Alisson little to do despite creating a number of goalscoring opportunities.

Alisson kept himself busy by becoming the first Reds keeper to assist a Premier League goal since March 2010, when Pepe Reina laid on a goal against Sunderland.

 

 


LATE HAYDEN WINNER LEAVES LAMPARD'S BLUES REELING

Chelsea have lost as many Premier League games this season as they did in the entirety of 2018-19 after Hayden scored in the 94th minute to snatch victory for Newcastle over Lampard's inconsistent Blues.

Four of Chelsea's eight league defeats this season have come in their last eight matches and supporters making the trip to Tyneside had reason to be fearful of their side coming unstuck.

Chelsea have now lost five of their last seven top-flight trips to St. James' Park but defeats to teams managed by Steve Bruce have been a rare occurrence - this was only the second time he has beaten the Blues in 23 games against them as a manager (D5 L16).

Prior to Hayden's strike, Newcastle had not scored a last-minute winner since Ayoze Perez struck against Tottenham in December 2015.

It was Hayden's third Premier League goal and came in his 70th appearance in the competition, his last coming in February 2019 against Wolves.

 

POROUS CITY PAY FOR ERRORS AT THE BACK

City came from behind to lead with three minutes left in their clash with Palace but conceded at home in the Premier League for the 12th time this season as the Eagles secured a point at the death.

Pep Guardiola's men have now conceded as many goals at home in the league as they did in the whole of last season and this was their third draw of the 2019-20 season - in their title-winning campaign last term they only drew twice.

Aguero's double inside five minutes marked the Argentina international's 250th and 251st goals in all competitions for the club in his 360th appearance, but Fernandinho became the first City player to score a Premier League own-goal since Nicolas Otamendi against Huddersfield Town in November 2017.

The scoring was opened by new signing Cenk Tosun, who netted in the 39th minute to become the fourth Turkish player to reach 10 Premier League goals after Muzzy Izzet, Tuncay Sanli and Tugay.

Palace are ninth in the table after four consecutive draws - the last time they drew as many Premier League games in a row was in 1992-93 when they started the season with the same sequence.

 

WOLVES EMERGING AS COMEBACK SPECIALISTS

When Raul Jimenez scored from the penalty spot at St. Mary's he pulled Wolves level after they had been two goals down, but there was even better to follow for Nuno Espirito Santo's men.

Jimenez scored again in the 76th minute, taking his tally to 19 goals in all competitions this season and clinching three points for Wolves that means they have now picked up 18 from losing positions in the Premier League this season - seven more than any other side.

Falling behind after 15 minutes to a Jan Bednarek goal was nothing new for the visitors, who have conceded first in 16 league games this season including each of their last seven in a row.

But Jimenez has been directly involved in 28 goals this season and after Shane Long netted his 54th Premier League goal to make it 2-0 to the Saints, Pedro Neto scored for the second time in his last three league appearances to tee up the Mexico international for a memorable brace.

Jimenez now has 19 goals and nine assists to his name in all competitions this season, giving him more direct goal involvements than any other top-flight player in 2019-20.

Virgil van Dijk said the memory of losing the Premier League title race to Manchester City in 2018-19 is keeping Liverpool grounded after his side's 2-0 victory over Manchester United at Anfield.

The Netherlands international scored his side's opener after 14 minutes of a game that threatened to slip through their fingers when the visitors finished strongly, but Mohamed Salah doubled Liverpool's lead in second-half stoppage time to put the Reds 16 points clear at the top of the table.

Chants of "we're going to win the league" rang out around Anfield at the final whistle but Van Dijk insisted the team's focus would immediately be on a difficult trip to Wolves on Thursday.

"Everyone wants us to say something about it but we won't get carried away," Van Dijk told Sky Sports. "We in the squad cannot and we won't.

"I think what we experienced last year is something that made our mentality like this. We just want to go one game at a time, trying to stay fit and improve. Even after today, which was a well-deserved, fantastic win.

"We all know how difficult Wolves is, what good tactics they have, the players they have, the manager is fantastic there. What we try to do is prepare very well, make sure we all recover from this, be 100 per cent.

"We all expect it to be a very tough game. It makes it easy to prepare if you know it's going to be tough and you know there will be difficult moments."

Van Dijk disagreed with the VAR ruling that judged him to have fouled David de Gea in the 25th minute as Liverpool had a Roberto Firmino goal ruled out.

But the Reds, by Van Dijk's own admission, had enough opportunities to put the game out of United's reach before Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's men caused nervous moments as they probed for a late equaliser.

"I think I didn't jump with my hands up," said Van Dijk, explaining his challenge on De Gea.

"It's difficult to say but if the VAR gives it you just have to accept it and carry on. I thought it was no foul.

"We had plenty more opportunities to score goals today and make it look easy. We had two, three, maybe four clear cut chances to make it easy but you have to find a way and we did."

Liverpool moved 16 points clear at the Premier League summit after Virgil van Dijk and Mohamed Salah secured a deserved 2-0 victory over rivals Manchester United at Anfield.

Second-place Manchester City drew 2-2 with Crystal Palace on Saturday and Liverpool, who still possess a game in hand, took full advantage to tighten their grip at the top and boost their chances of a first league title since 1990.

United are the only team to take points off Jurgen Klopp's men this season and deployed a three-man defence – including Luke Shaw at centre-back – as they did when the teams drew 1-1 at Old Trafford in October.

But Liverpool took just 14 minutes to take the lead through Van Dijk and, despite an improvement from the visitors in the second half, Salah raced away on the break to clinch the three points in second-half stoppage time.

After Fred and Brandon Williams let Van Dijk get loose in the area Harry Maguire was United's last hope, but the Netherlands international leapt above the man who took his tag as the world's most expensive defender to nod in the opener.

Liverpool had what they thought was a second ruled out by VAR in the 25th minute.

David de Gea spilled a high ball under pressure from Van Dijk but referee Craig Pawson did not blow his whistle after putting it to his mouth. Play continued and Roberto Firmino curled home a fine finish, only for the challenge on the United goalkeeper – who received a yellow card for his protests – to be deemed a foul upon review.

Andreas Pereira failed to convert a rare United chance against the run of play from inside the six-yard box, before De Gea managed to keep out Sadio Mane on the stroke of half-time.

Liverpool came flying out of the blocks in the second half, with Salah scuffing a glorious opportunity wide and De Gea brilliantly tipping a venomous drive from Jordan Henderson onto the post.

Anthony Martial showed a lack of composure when he hacked high and wide after a brilliant one-two with Pereira before the hour mark, while Mane passed up an opening after a swift break from the hosts.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer switched to a back four for the final 15 minutes but, as United pushed for an equaliser, Salah punished the visitors by surging clear from a corner and holding off Daniel James to seal the win with a cool finish.
 

What does it mean? United need attacking reinforcements

Solskjaer said pre-game Marcus Rashford was facing "weeks" out with a back injury, though reports subsequently emerged claiming he could be facing up to three months out.

With James and Martial doing little up top, United would be wise to look to the transfer market to bolster their options. Failing to secure the signature of Erling Haaland, who scored a hat-trick after coming off the bench on his Borussia Dortmund debut on Saturday, now looks like even more of a blow.

Van Dijk a colossus

Not only did he score the first goal, Van Dijk was immovable at the heart of Liverpool's defence and comfortably dealt with United's limp attack. His exemplary distribution from the back helped keep Solskjaer's men on the back foot for much of the game.

The Pereira conundrum

Having made a marginal impact as a winger at Valencia, Pereira fared little better when deployed in a deep-lying midfield role last season. He played as a number 10 at Anfield and missed United's best chance while creating just one chance for Martial.

What's next?

Liverpool travel to Molineux to face Wolves on Thursday, with United at home to Burnley a day prior.

Liverpool dominated the voting for UEFA's Champions League Team of the Year 2019, with five Reds players making the final XI alongside Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo.

Jurgen Klopp led Liverpool to their sixth European title in Madrid in June, with Mohamed Salah and Divock Origi on target in a 2-0 victory over Tottenham at the Wanda Metropolitano.

Virgil van Dijk was named man of the match and he features alongside Anfield defensive colleagues Trent Alexander-Arnold and Andy Robertson, as well as goalkeeper Alisson.

Sadio Mane is the other Liverpool player in the line-up, part of a front four completed by Messi, Ronaldo and Bayern Munich striker Robert Lewandowski.

Matthijs de Ligt and Frenkie de Jong earned blockbusting moves to Juventus and Barcelona respectively as they helped Ajax to last season's semi-finals and both make the select side, with the latter partnered in central midfield by Manchester City playmaker Kevin De Bruyne.

More than two million votes were cast to select the team via UEFA.com over the course of a six-week period.

Jurgen Klopp described Liverpool's record-breaking points tally as "special" but insists he will not get carried away until his side have an unassailable lead at the top of the Premier League. 

The Reds made it 61 points from their 21 league games this season with a 1-0 win at Tottenham on Saturday, courtesy of Roberto Firmino's first-half goal.

That is the most any side has registered after the same number of games in a single season across Europe's big five leagues.

Klopp's men are now a whopping 16 points ahead of second-place Leicester City – who lost to Southampton earlier in the day – although their lead at the summit would be cut to 14 points if Manchester City overcome Aston Villa on Sunday.

"That is special [the points tally]," the German told Sky Sports. "If it would be easy then a lot more teams would have done it.

"It's really difficult to win the number of games and always be ready to fight on your best day, on your worst day and on the average days. Always that's what the boys do; that's why we are here.

"I'm really happy about it. The only problem is you don't get anything for best starts apart from numbers. The only thing we are interested in is what happens at the end of the season and so that's not done yet, because this league is so strong, because we face so many strong opponents.

"The moment that we have enough points that nobody can catch us anymore, then we start talking about it. Until then I couldn't be less interested."

Tottenham should have sealed a point late on, with Son Hueng-min and Giovani Lo Celso guilty of squandering golden opportunities, and Klopp expressed his frustration at his side's failure to put the game out of the hosts' reach. 

"First and foremost the result is the most important thing," he said. "One team deserved to win and that was us. That the game was not decided after 50-60 minutes was, of course, our fault as well.

"We had big chances and didn't score with them. There were a lot of good parts but we should have scored more goals; that's the truth. We have to be honest to ourselves and that's what we are.

"So, we could have scored more and when you can do that you have to do it; especially against an opponent like Tottenham, in a stadium like this."

Despite their stunning campaign, defender Virgil van Dijk claims there is more to come from the Merseysiders. 

"It gives us all a good feeling, but I think you see especially in the second half there's still room for improvement, so we're going to have to look at the things we have to improve," he said.

"That's the mentality we have and obviously we're in a good situation but there's still so much work we can do to make it even easier at times. It's a difficult place to come and three points is outstanding for us."

There is never a good time to face the current Liverpool team but Jose Mourinho's beleaguered Tottenham team could well do without meeting the Premier League leaders on this particular weekend.

Spurs are winless in their last three games in all competitions and have won just one of their last four in the top flight, leaving them sixth and a staggering 28 points behind the Reds after 21 games.

Liverpool, in stark contrast, can rack up their 12th consecutive Premier League win if they triumph at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium and will be well rested having fielded a team largely made up of fringe players in their 1-0 FA Cup victory over Everton.

At their best Liverpool look unstoppable, but Tottenham have only lost one league home game in four months and Mourinho would love nothing more than to put his side's season back on track by putting a speedbump under the Anfield juggernaut.

 

ACID TEST FOR SPURS' POUROUS DEFENCE

Since Mourinho's arrival, Spurs have kept just one clean sheet and any Tottenham fans anticipating a more miserly rearguard action under the Portuguese have been disappointed thus far.

Defensive fragility has been Tottenham's Achilles heel all season, and their record of two domestic clean sheets this term is bettered by every top-flight club except stragglers Norwich City.

Liverpool, meanwhile, have scored in their last 29 top-flight matches and are steaming towards Manchester United's record of finding the net in 36 consecutive Premier League games, which the Red Devils set in November 2008.

Stopping Liverpool means stopping Sadio Mane, who has been involved in 11 goals in his last nine Premier League appearances, scoring six goals and assisting five.

Mane picked up the African Player of the Year award earlier in the week and will no doubt be in the mood to celebrate with a goal in North London.

HEAD-TO-HEAD: JAN VERTONGHEN v VIRGIL VAN DIJK

Among those tasked with stopping Mane, Mohamed Salah, Roberto Firmino et al will be Tottenham centre-back Jan Vertonghen, who has started in 14 of Spurs' 21 league games this season.

The Belgium international's contract is up at the end of the season and his lacklustre performance in Tottenham's 1-1 FA Cup draw with Middlesbrough prompted calls for him to be let go by sections of the club's support.

But in answering his critics Vertonghen might point to his duel success rate of 74.02 per cent this season, which stands up well against the imperious Virgil van Dijk who has won 75.58 per cent of his Premier League duels this season.

Van Dijk has been successful in 64.29 per cent of his tackles this term, while Vertonghen has won 58.82 per cent of his, and Van Dijk's nine blocks put him just one ahead of his Tottenham counterpart.

Van Dijk dramatically outshines Vertonghen in the air, winning 101 aerial balls compared to the Belgian's 42, and the Dutchman can boast seven league clean sheets this season.

Perhaps most worrying for Mourinho is that the 32-year-old Vertonghen has been dribbled past on 10 occasions across the course of the campaign - seven more times than Van Dijk, who so rarely gets beaten on the ground or in the air.

FORM GUIDE

Liverpool have scored seven goals without reply in their last two Premier League away games, which extended their winning streak on the road to four consecutive games.

But Spurs do have an omen in their favour: in their last 10 home league games against sides starting the day top of the table, Tottenham have won six (D1 L3).

That said, getting a result against Liverpool requires Spurs to break down the Premier League's meanest defence, and they will have to do so without the injured Harry Kane.

Tottenham have won just two of their last 12 games in all competitions without Kane (D4 L6) and when the England striker has been missing this season his team-mates have failed to win at all (D3 L1).

HISTORY SAYS

Recent meetings with Liverpool have not gone well for Tottenham, who have won just one of their last 14 Premier League games against the Reds (D4 L9), winning 4-1 at Wembley in October 2017.

It was not always this way: Liverpool lost five consecutive games at Tottenham between 2008 and 2012, but in their last six league visits they have claimed three wins and two draws.

Victory on Saturday would mark Liverpool's fourth consecutive win in London - a feat they have not achieved since October 1989.

Liverpool's tally of 58 points from 20 Premier League games this season has already eclipsed their totals from the entirety of the 2011-12 and 1998-99 campaigns, and their charge towards the title will take some stopping at Spurs.

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