Liverpool may have been on cloud nine after winning the Champions League, but Virgil van Dijk says their desire to lift the Premier League brought them quickly back down to Earth.
Denied the title last season on the final day by Manchester City after losing a seven-point lead, there was deep disappointment.
As the two sides meet at Anfield on Sunday, with the unbeaten Reds holding a six-point advantage over Pep Guardiola’s champions, van Dijk says that unhappy finale has not scarred them as they aim to succeed this time.
“A lot of experience we had last year, winning the Champions League, getting so close to the Premier League,” said the Dutch defender on how his side were different this season.
“It’s always going to benefit us in a good way. Winning the Champions League can get you up in the clouds, but the manager, the staff, the players, have the right mentality at the moment that we want to do it again, like other teams.
“You can’t have regrets. The fact is City were just one point better than us and you have to respect that too. I did.
“On the day when we played Wolves, and in the end everyone knew City were champions, obviously you are a bit disappointed. But we shouldn’t be. We had an incredible season.
“We lost only once and we did everything that we could. But the only thing was they were just a little bit better. Hopefully we can be on the other side this season.
“We don’t need motivation to win the league in that kind of case [of missing out last season].
“We knew we had to recharge in the summer, take a lot of positive points that we had throughout the season and try to do it again this year – and even better. That’s what we are doing.
“We want to win the league like City, but we know how tough it is. City are a fantastic team, they are the reigning champions at the moment and it’s very difficult to stay top.
“But we are just going to go for it and see where it brings us at the end of the season.
“If it doesn’t bring us what we want, we will just try again next year. That’s the mentality we have.”
Van Dijk described last season’s title race as “incredible” and insists Liverpool, without a top-flight championship since 1990, will remain level headed even if they go nine points clear.
He added: “We play so many good teams in the league still and it’s really tough to be on top, to stay on top and anything can change still.
“We realise that, but we are very happy with the situation at the moment and hopefully we can keep it going.
“I don’t know if we are better or if they are stronger [than last season], but the situation is such that we are at the moment six points above them. But it can change quickly.
“We have had games that we could have done better, they have had games they could have done better. But the situation, how it is right now, is that it is going to be a very tough game.
“I have no fear. You should not have fear when you go out on the pitch. That’s not something we feel. We know we have the quality to win games.”
Two players who could make a difference are City’s record scorer Sergio Aguero, who has not netted at Anfield in 10 club appearances, and Roberto Firmino, who is without a goal in eight Liverpool games.
Van Dijk, surprised at his team-mate’s drought, added: “He’s so important for us and we are not worried at all.
“Everyone needs to contribute and I’m trying as well. Everyone needs to do their bit.
“Everyone knows how deadly those front three [Firmino, Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane] are, and will be. If they have a slight moment they can punish [teams] and they are so important for us.
“City’s threats are pretty obvious. They are the champions, quality throughout the whole pitch, a clear plan, fantastic manager, fantastic players and very difficult to beat.
“I think Aguero’s one of the best strikers in the league and been doing it for many many years. I think he has enough experience that he does not worry about those kind of statistics from outside. We have to be at our best to keep him quiet. It will be a good challenge.”
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