Interview'We want to make it special' - Virgil van Dijk relishing FA Cup chance
It niggles Virgil van Dijk that this Liverpool squad has yet to win the Emirates FA Cup.
The Netherlands captain has been an imperious figure in the Reds’ multiple triumphs of recent seasons, helping the team to lift the Premier League, Champions League, FIFA Club World Cup, UEFA Super Cup and – in February – the Carabao Cup, since arriving in 2018.
On Saturday at Wembley, Jürgen Klopp’s side will have their best opportunity so far to add the FA Cup to their haul of silverware when they contest this season’s final against Chelsea.
The desire to get their hands on a trophy that has eluded this group of players in the short term – and the club as a whole for 16 years – will be a major driving force for Liverpool this weekend.
“It’s a special competition,” Van Dijk told Liverpoolfc.com. “Obviously we didn’t achieve enough over the last couple of years to be close to the final, unfortunately, for different reasons. But now we are in the final and we want to make it a special one.
“This is the only trophy we didn’t win so far as a group of players since I’ve been at the club. Now we have a big chance – against a fantastic Chelsea.
“It has been maybe too long ago since the last time we won it as a club. We have a good chance to get this in our cabinet as well. We know how tough it’s going to be, we’ve seen already in the Carabao Cup final. We’ll see. We’ll go there and hopefully [have] a fantastic day out again.”
Inside Wembley: Liverpool lift the Carabao Cup
There was almost nothing to separate Liverpool and Thomas Tuchel’s Chelsea in their three previous meetings this season.
After draws at Anfield (1-1) and Stamford Bridge (2-2) in the Premier League, they faced off in the Carabao Cup final and needed penalties to decide a winner when a thrilling 120 minutes somehow passed by without a goal.
Even in the shootout they could barely be split, with the 11th round of kicks – taken by the respective goalkeepers – finally producing an outcome as Caoimhin Kelleher scored and Kepa Arrizabalaga missed.
On the difficulties Chelsea present as an opponent, Van Dijk said: “The individual quality is a big thing. They have different ways to play against you, attack you and create dangerous moments.
“They have different moments they are also very good at; quality in midfield, up front, behind. They are a complete team. This last part of the season they haven’t been as consistent as they obviously wish to be – could be through injuries, different things, setbacks they had with [being] knocked out of the Champions League.
“But it doesn’t really matter in this final. This final is going to be one game, both teams want to win it as much as possible. It’s going to be a very tough and good game.”
The FA Cup showpiece is the Reds’ 60th fixture of a remarkable campaign in which they will play every game available to them, having also qualified for the Champions League final.
Van Dijk has never experienced anything like this season, with a quadruple still a possibility for Klopp’s men in mid-May.
“Obviously we’ve progressed over the years as a group, the players who have come in have been very important for the team, also for the club in general,” said the No.4.
“We’re in a good moment at this stage as a club, as a team, as a city altogether. And hopefully rewards come after the season. It’s obviously not guaranteed, we still have to play all these games and hopefully be on the winning side of it.
“But regardless of what happens, I’m very proud of everyone here and we have to keep it going.”
During the aforementioned Carabao Cup final penalty shootout, Van Dijk walloped in a spot-kick of unerring confidence and technique.
As Kepa took up a position significantly right of centre, the Liverpool man dispatched the ball into the top corner of that same side of the goal.
And while he would much rather the Reds get the job done without going to penalties at Wembley again, he will be on hand to take another if required.
“It was a good penalty, I can’t deny it, but I’m definitely still practising on it because you have to,” said Van Dijk. “You have to stay consistent. A penalty, you need a bit of luck, but you definitely practise it. We all as a group do it.
“Hopefully we can win the game and do it before penalties but if penalties are needed then players have to be ready to step up. In that case, obviously I had to step up.”
Ultimately, Liverpool’s aim is clear: however it would happen, they crave the experience of celebrating more silverware alongside supporters.
“It’s a fantastic occasion. It’s a final, the fans have their special day out at Wembley again,” added Van Dijk.
“For us as players, we want to win a cup, win this cup in particular. We’ll just go there and perform and hopefully be the better side, and on the winning side especially.
“The feeling that you get after you win something is an incredible feeling and you want to get that feeling after every season, or in the Carabao Cup a little bit earlier. You want rewards from a good season. So far this season we’re still in everything and we’ll see what it brings.”