Jürgen Klopp hailed Virgil van Dijk after Liverpool's new No.4 marked his debut for the club with a late winner to defeat Everton in the third round of the FA Cup.
Centre-back Van Dijk made his first appearance for the Reds in Friday’s Merseyside derby at Anfield and crowned an impressive display by planting a firm low header from Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain’s corner into the Kop end net with just five minutes remaining.
The Dutchman’s goal proved enough for Klopp’s side to claim a 2-1 victory, after James Milner’s first-half penalty had been equalised by Gylfi Sigurdsson midway through the second period.
Post-match, Klopp was asked to analyse Van Dijk’s performance and for his thoughts on Bobby Madley’s decision to award Liverpool a spot-kick when Mason Holgate made contact with Adam Lallana in the area.
Read on for a summary of the boss’ press conference…
On Van Dijk’s debut…
Yes, nice one! A fairytale in a world with not a lot of fairytales anymore, so I think something like that is quite special. It was a difficult decision to make, to be honest, because, to be 100 per cent honest, the first plan was not to start him tonight but then Dejan and Raggy played a lot of games in the last few weeks, so I changed my mind this morning. And it helped! They [had] little muscle issues, but could have played with a little higher risk than usual. I made the decision this morning that Virgil will start - and obviously it was a good idea in the end because the whole game was good.
He showed a lot of things we want him to show in the future very often tonight; heading of course, football-wise his first touch was good, good under pressure and then around set-pieces a proper threat. Cool, but you cannot score a header off a set-piece if nobody is doing the cross and Oxlade-Chamberlain for a second time in a row made a goal from this - at Burnley it was a free-kick and now it was a corner, so that’s very important for us. It was a big fight, it was not brilliant football, it was not the most beauty - it was how cup games should be. It is not about who is the better side, who can do this or that. Things like this can happen sometimes, but it is pretty rare.
We had to really work a lot and that’s all we were asking for before the game - we said we needed to be ready for the hardest work because we want to go to the next round and everyone needs to see that. They scored their equaliser, which was just bad protection from us. Adam [Lallana] was already a little bit on the edge and we wanted to change him, we had prepared the change in the moment. He did a fantastic job - you think where he is coming from, how much he played in the last few weeks and then this situation, he wanted to get the ball a little bit too much.
Then Bolasie was completely free because we didn’t react good in the last line with two versus one. Then both came there and the pass was there for Jagielka. It was a good run from him and then for Sigurdsson - not only for him but especially for him - it’s like it was one yard to go until the goal for him. An easy goal for him and then we had to react again. We did it and so I am really happy about it.
On whether Van Dijk’s display exceeded his expectations…
He was much better than I thought, to be honest, because it’s difficult, it’s always difficult. I said before the game that my expectations are easy to reach because I know how good he is and so I only want him to show that. I still know that he’s a human being and things can happen that he can show it tonight, things like this happen. But we all know that expectation can lead to pressure and then you look a little bit different than you look usually, and he obviously could stand the pressure tonight.
He was for sure nervous but you could not see it and that’s the most important thing probably. He came quite well in the game and then from this point on I think how it is as a player you are then in kind of a tunnel, you don’t think about anything else than the game, so that helped a lot. We defended a lot of situations really well, leading to situations that were easy for him to handle because of course he is really good in the air. But then there came a few situations where it was a little bit tighter and he had a brilliant first touch, played football, not too complicated - which makes real sense always, but especially in your first game. So he played much better than I thought he would play tonight.
On whether he is already thinking of how Van Dijk can improve…
I think first of all we should help him just to be as good as he is already because that’s why we took him. You don’t pay that amount of money for a player and think ‘OK, we can get another 80 per cent’, but of course there is [room for] improvement. But the first improvement will be to adapt really to the team, how we deal in different situations. But as I said, since he is in, we spoke more about it and we did it actually on the pitch. We had 15 minutes [this morning], 11 versus 11, no intensity and just movements. It was enough and we wanted him to be as natural as possible.
Usually with no games, if the other players had not that intense period, and Ragnar and Dejan they played so well in the last few games that I did not even think about it to bring him in immediately, but now it was the situation and thank God he reacted like that. It was a really good start, especially with the goal, we know how important that is for each player, especially for a Liverpool player, so a really nice one.
On the penalty decision…
[It was a] soft one, but a penalty. It was exactly the same - I’ve seen it once after the game - and it was exactly the same situation like in the last game [against Everton]. Probably you all said if the arms are there, if the hands are there, then it’s the fault of the centre-half. I don’t think both situations were penalties, but everybody told me afterwards the Everton one was a penalty so I learned [from] it and this one was a penalty. What can I say? Sorry!